Online Free Speech Essay, Research Paper
The First Amendment gives American citizens the right to learn and express themselves. The American public embraces the First Amendment, but may not be aware how often this amendment is challenged by new components. The arriving challenges are all derived from power, meaning “The ability to cause others to modify their behavior and to conform to what the power holder wants.”(Bardes, Shelley II, Schmidt, 9). To whom is the power allocated, who supports it, and when do people rebel against a certain power? Internet censorship is a current political power struggle. Internet regulation is a fairly recent issue in the American society, with the first mentions of it appearing in 1996 with the Communications Decency Act. The information highway has become a major path to the learning experience, in turn, the concept of bypassing the indecent websites has increased. Who is right or wrong isn’t the focus, it’s who has the power and how are they going to use it. The 1996 political party platform that best supports Internet free speech would have to be the education platform, mostly supported by the democratic side. Democrats platform states “Education is the key to opportunity…education is the fault line that separates those who will prosper from those who cannot”(Baxter, 2). This supports it best because the internet’s main purpose is to educate the public, and education is what furthers people to have a more prosperous future. The GOP party education platform is based on funding and ethics of the republican party. The republican party wants to give grants to the states that follow the party’s specific standards (Baxter, 2). There is a great deal of money at stake here, education was the number one project of California taxpayers money in 1997-98, spending 46% of the tax revenue for community colleges and K-12 grades (Huber, 142). This relates to internet regulation because the GOP wants to issue grants to update computers and intenet access only to schools and libraries who comply with their censorship views. Republicans support a bill that would promote a “filter” which would force schools and libraries to equip the public computers with a system that would sift out sexual material in order to qualify for federal funds to improve internet access. This will allow schools and libraries to pay for internet service with a piece of the new two billion dollar a year “E-Rate” fund, which is to be paid into by telecommunications companies and collected by the Federal Communications Commission. A republican senator, John McCain from Arizona introduced a bill May of 1998, stating that institutions need to prove they are using software or other technology blocking access to sexually explicit sites at all school computers, and at at least one library specially marked for children’s use. Critics of this bill say that the technology is far from foolproof, and that decisions about control and access should be made locally with respect for the first amendment. Another republican senator, Dan Coats, from Indiana went to a rural Indiana high school to express his opinion on the subject. He described graphic internet images that were viewed inside the school library. Along with Sen. McCain, they called these images “horrific” and he was “so shocked and taken back”(O’Connor, 2). Some witnesses at the Indiana high school counseled caution in enacting any federal controls on internet content, and warned that existing screening technology falls short of the goal to place a strong barrier between kids and on-line sex. It is argued that McCain’s Bill, and Coats’ Ideas make the same mistake. Daniel Weitzner, deputy director of the center for Democracy and Technology (a Washington public interest group) said that the links between on-line images and pedophilla “seem entirely unsubstantiated”(O’Connor, 4). At a further meeting of argument on this subject, the sharpest of critics were not asked to testify, such as the National Education Association, the American Library Association, and the Internet Free Expression Alliance – a group whose members include the American Civil Liberties Union, American Society of Newspaper Editors, and People for the American Way. The reason they were not chosen to speak is due to their opinions, best represented by Lynne E. Bradley, the deputy executive director of the ALA’s Washington office “We think there is no need for a federal mandate, We think that decisions on controls are best made as a local decision”(O’Connor, 4). Republicans are using many tactics to transfer power to their favor. The main tactic expressed is based on “the cause and effect” on the American children who will be subject to harmful material released on the internet. Of course another, more obvious tactic is law, by making bills to go through the senate and the house of representatives they increase the chances of persuading the law in the preferred direction. By using these tactics in the American society the Republican party hopes to gain support and win the cause that they believe in. Representative Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York who supports filters, warns that government pressure to force the use of filters could lead to special interests groups or local governments to press Internet service providers to filter information before users have a chance to see it. Nadler says his biggest fear is that congress will try to move too fast. He has fear that if this mandate goes into place the filtering technology will not yet be understood by it’s users, and therefore be ineffective. He also states that filtering technology casts an overly broad net in it’s effort to prevent even one objectionable site from slipping through, and this tool of censorship will be detrimental in schools and libraries. Clinton’s Democratic administration encourages Internet providers to offer filtering software (i.e., SurfWatch, Net Nanny). The chief White House strategist on the information highway, is to offer “Tools that empower parents to make their own choices”(O’Connor, 6) about the kind of information they want their children to see on the internet. They then continue to mention that some service providers, like America On-line provide their own filters, and other service providers offer separate filters as a part of their packages. The democratic party’s main tactic promotes choices. They promote choice to operate a Internet filtering device, but not to make it mandatory. In respects to filtering systems to public computers, the tactic used promotes knowledge. Democrats want to know the specifics about the filtering software before getting in a hurry to install it, therefore eliminating the possibility of over censorship. The on-line industry’s opinion on this situation is surprising, they are actually trying to stay in the middle of the situation. The head of the Association for interactive media opposes McCains’s bill, which is to be expected. Interestingly enough, he also condemned the American Civil Liberties Union for it’s opposition to the instillation of filtering software by public libraries. Andy Sernovitz the president of the group states “We can put a brown paper wrapper around Internet porn while still protecting out first amendment rights”(O’Connor, 7).
The Internet Free Expression Alliance is one of the main interest groups fighting internet regulation and censorship. During a joint statement for record on Legislative Proposals to protect children from inappropriate materials on the internet they stated: “We are united in our belief that the internet is a powerful and positive forum for free expression. It is a venue where ‘any person can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther that it could from any soapbox,’ as the US Supreme court has observed. Internet users, on-line publishers, library and academic groups and free speech and journalistic organizations share a common interest in opposing the adoption of laws, techniques or standards that could limit the vibrance and openness of the internet as a communications medium.”(Steinhardt, 1). The IFEA also believes that parents and teachers should provide children with guidance about accessing information on the internet, not the federal government. The IFEA questions the suggestion that internet access providers should be required by law to make screening software available to their customers due to the documented defects and shortcomings of the products. In turn, they believe the federal government shouldn’t be endorsing them, let alone requiring the internet providers make them available to subscribers. The Internet Free Expression Alliance uses Free speech as their main tactic, they believe that the internet is a bounty of information that should let all people access it. At this time they also used a tactic promoting mal- functioning equipment, stating that screening software shouldn’t even be available due to the inconsistency and problems they contain. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of the leading civil liberties organizations devoted to securing that the internet remains the world’s first truly global vehicle for free speech, and that the privacy/security of all on-line communication is preserved. EFF was the first to state that a proposed plan to revamp the Internet Domain Naming System (DNS) would threaten both the democratic governance of the Internet and basic human rights principles for free expression and due process. The EFF called for substantial changes in the reconstruction project. EFF’s was asked in a letter from the Internet community to set proposed bylaw changes in the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI). Together, IANA and NSI have created a “New IANA” plan to revamp the DNS processes. This is in response to a Clinton Administration White Paper calling for changes that reflect the global nature of the Net and furthermore addresses weaknesses, and many other current problems. The “New IANA” plan is considered the main problem in satisfying these requirements of a new internet screening process. EFF argues that the plan basically fails to meet these requirements and in the long run, would just cause new problems (Steinhardt, 3). Sociologically the sexually explicit pictures and articles on the internet are seen as socially deviant. Deviance meaning any behavior that violates the normalicies of that society. That’s why there is such a present controversy over the internet. This new filtering system introduced in congress is a form of social control, which means it is a strategy or technique used to promote conformity. This screening system will let the programmers of the software choose what they believe is deviant in terms of literature, and create a social control to maintain distance these materials from the American society. Most religions who take a stand on this issue seem to share the same views as the majority of republicans. Religious groups such as the Society of Friends and the Glide United Methodist Church have used these censorship tools, along with the American Family Association.(Hilty, 2). It’s assumed that Protestant religions take on these standpoints because their faith is based on the bible, which clearly rejects pornography and sexually explicit materials. Religious group opinions greatly influence special interest groups, which furthermore influences the political parties to make decisions in their favor so officials can get re-elected. If a law is made under the influence of church pressure this is called a blue law. Socialization is the process where a person learns attitudes, values, and actions appropriate to their group. Media being a major agent of socialization is of importance when analyzing the concept of on-line free speech. The internet is a form of media entertainment, if it’s left at free range we may see the something to the equivalent of watching a pornography on primetime television. This is a concern that has to be looked at closely when examining the well being of children because the primary socialization stage takes places during childhood. Current struggles in the media and politics create a dilemma for the American society, as well as the global society. All the opinions and tactics of the republican party, democratic party, interests groups, on-line industry, and the general public make it difficult to determine what is right or wrong for all existing people. This current power struggle brings out the possible positive and negative effects, from all the opposing and biased views. Internet regulation is already pre-influenced by previous laws, like the first amendment, which makes determination by law an even more difficult and tedious situation to sort out. The end decision will be made by the upper hand power holder. Those who have power, either by earning or taking, have the last say in the matter. These groups are then using influential tactics to increase support, therefore gain power in the decision making process. It’s the “Who’s who” of American society, to whom is the power allocated, who supports it, and when do people rebel against a certain power?
Bardes, Shelley II, Schmidt. American Government & Politics Today. The Essentials. St. Paul: West, 1998. Hilty, Wyn. “Wotta guy, Why we love OC librarian John Adams” OC Weekly. August, 1998. House of Representatives. “Internet free expression Alliance” House of Representatives joint statement.. 11 September 1998. Huber, Walt. California State and Local Government in Crisis. 3rd Edition, 1992. O’Connor, Rory. “Anti-porn filter: Unconstitutional or a protector of kids?” San Jose Mercury News. 6 June, 1998. Steinhardt, Barry. “Electronic Frontier Foundation reacts to senate passage of two Internet Censorship Bills” www.eff.org. 21, July 1998. 105th Congress. “To require the instillation of a system for filtering or blocking with internet access” A Bill. 11 Feb. 1998.