Free Speech On The Internet Essay, Research Paper
Free Speech on the Internet
Protection or violation of Constitutional Rights?
The Internet, becoming available to civilians in 1991, has become a regular part of life for most people. It is also a forum for many people to speak their minds without being censored by the government or other global agencies. A number of enterprising people have also made it a haven for pornography distributors, which although distasteful, is not illegal. Lately Senators Dan Coats and John McCain have been trying to censure the mass media stage and force “filters” upon people’s computers.
Is this tactic completely legal and constitutional? Barry Steinhardt, a journalist and computer scientist disputes: “It will deprive library patrons, students and speakers of their First Amendment rights.” (Steinhardt, On Free Speech) The common man generally, does not see it this way, especially those with children, because yes, there is a threat from pornography but that is not the only thing Senators and law makers are trying to censure. They are trying to ban “seditious” literature as Senator John McCain describes it. Those who study history should recall that Stalin, Hitler, and Castro to name a few, first denied free speech in order to establish a totalitarian government. This idea might sound outrageous but we must always be on our guard and never let history repeat itself. But in the US’s case it is even more of a violation for these senators to attempt to violate our rights because they are written down as our constitutional rights and once these have been taken then it becomes open season on any other rights they wish to take.
To add insult to injury, when the senators brought forth this bill to be included into the US law, they wouldn’t not allow anyone to speak out against it. These two senators, without anyone else’s knowledge, barred critics of the bill from the House; so therefore, no one else was there to dispute the bill. But when the rest of Congress did hear about their actions, there was a great uproar against these two senators. The senators claimed that they had to move in haste to propose the bill so that no more children could be exploited by pornography. In fact, no word of the censorship of literacy, which they did plan to include in the bill, was even mentioned.
Luckily for the American people, the US Supreme Court ruled against these tyrants and saw the underhandedness of how these senators conducted themselves. Last year, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) fought Attorney General Janet Reno against the censorship of free speech. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the ACLU by saying: “As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.” (The EFF, Blue Ribbon) The statement sums up what most people in favor of free speech on the Internet feel.
The United States is not the only democratic nation that is being threatened by censorship on a global scale. The newly democratic Russian Duma (basically a Russian Congress) is trying to make the publishing of Literature on the Internet very difficult for Russian citizens. And their publication would be completely off limits for persons under 18, foreigners, persons owning more than 10% of foreign capital or a corporation where 30% of the employees are foreigners. Even then, if a citizen manages to meet the requirements, he must pay a $1000 minimum fee to “register” his webpage. Attorney Raafat Toss, an attorney for the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, a US-based, non-profit organization devoted to free speech says: “It wasn’t too long ago that people in Russia had to register their typewriters. So it would basically be a step back for Russia toward regulating speech, rather than being a model for online freedom.” At least one Russian Duma Deputy, Yuri Nestorov, has spoken out against the bill. (Moffet, Russia)
Now we must look at whether or not these two superpowers should even be allowed to carry out these censorings if, God forbid, the bills are passed. The Internet is a global media and the US government, or any government for that matter, should not be allowed to control what someone from say, Germany downloads onto his computer off the Internet. That is violating UN Treaties and Geneva Treaties to name a few violations. Why have these senators and Duma officials failed to realize this? Many say that these officials have a distorted view of themselves as “Global Police”, protecting the world in the United States best interests, which in some cases is true. As far as how much good all this censorship could do, how about all the bad things it could cause? For one, some of these filters are, “overbroad” as journalist from the San Jose Mercury, Rory O’Connor calls it. (O’Connor, Filters, 2)
Are these senators doing this in our (US citizens) best interest? More pessimistically, some do in fact believe that there are other ulterior motives. Why would these senators propose a bill under the guise of only banning indecent pornography on the Internet only to “sneak” lines in the bill banning “seditious” literature? Anyone in their right mind can understand why the government would want to regulate indecent and pornographic material from the Internet, but when they include the regulation of speech, which is protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America it makes the entire bill moot. On a more optimistic note, many critics doubt they have any ulterior motives. Most believe that they are doing what they are out of ignorance. Digiphobia, or “fear of computers” is a real, medically recognized condition. But it can be overcome by an effort to teach people the great things they can do, and how they can liberate and lift up the common man on a global scale. So instead of just hating our resenting those who try to take our free speech it is our responsibility to teach and enlighten those who do.
Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Blue Ribbon Campaign for Free Speech on the Internet. EFF Apr. 15, 1998 Available at: http://www.eff.org/blueribbon/
O’Connor, Rory. Anti-porn “filter”: unconstitutional or a protector of our kids? San Jose Mercury. Feb. 10, 1998 Available at :http://www.sjmercury.com/business/center
Moffett, Julie. Russia: Proposed Legislation Threatens Free Speech on the Internet. Radio Free Europe * Radio Liberty. Available at: http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/
Steinhardt, Barry. On Free Speech. Mar. 3, 1998 Available at: http://www.eff.org/blueribbon/