Internet Censorship- Against

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As the end of the twentieth century nears, a new medium and tool has emerged as the future of communications, business, news, education, and entertainment. This tool is the Internet, a worldwide network of computers currently connected by phone lines. While it is still in its infancy, its power as a medium is very great, and this is being recognized ever more frequently by the businesses and people it connects. However, it is also abundant with information that is considered inappropriate, adult, and/or vulgar by many people. Many social groups and politicians are alarmed at how children and teenagers can readily access this material. Around the world, the call has gone out for restriction and censorship of the Internet. This rally has been met with mixed results. People who support freedom of speech on the Internet quote from the first amendment of the Constitution. In addition, many groups are in favor of restricting the Internet, similarly to how television is regulated in the United States. In favor of this regulation are groups emphasizing values and some foreign governments. In the latter, often the government does not want the citizens being introduced to new ideas, which may cause discontent and unrest in some cases. Whether the Internet should and can be censored is one debate which affects much of the modern world. Though there are strong arguments on both sides, by examining evidence it can be decided that there is no feasible way to regulate the Internet at the present time in the United States. Before any censorship can even be attempted, some serious questions must be answered. The most important of these is "What is the Internet's identity?" What this means is that the type of media the Internet represents has not yet been determined. It must be decided whether the "Net" is considered a broadcast system, which could be subject to regulation, or a communications system like phone and mail systems, which could not be legally regulated (Jones, 18). Additionally, values and morals must be questioned. Many people believe that responsibility should be handled between parents and children, not by the government. The American people and people around the world may not be willing to hand this responsibility to politicians, who could hypothetically use this power to their advantage in some situations. Many proponents of Internet restriction have rallied around "community standards." However, it should be noted that these standards have not yet been implemented in any medium currently available, with the exception of television (Robischon, 57). Even here, their effectiveness is the source of fierce debate. The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently submitted a list of Internet sites which negatively depict Latinos, Jews, Gays, and African Americans (Jones, 18). Though such ideas may seem disgusting to many people, free speech is protected in the Constitution, and a child with "proper" values would not be drawn to this type of site in the first place. People, not the computers that simply relay the information are to blame for situations such as this. Lack of understanding of the Internet is also a reason opposition has risen, particularly within the U.S. Congress. Most senators have admitted that they are net-illiterate (Yang, 73). This situation has caused Internet proponents to strive towards educating Congress through use of demonstrations on the Senate floor. Another question that must be answered is whether current obscenity laws can be applied to the Internet. Before any action can be taken, these questions and countless others must be answered. Another reason the Internet is not censurable is because of its vastness. The Internet contains chat groups and newsgroups, which are bulletin boards where individuals can "post" messages. These messages can be read by anyone in the world and are so numerous that they are impossible to regulate. On average, there are about 10,000 chat groups available on each Internet service provider (James, 26). The huge number of messages sent each day would be impossible to control and regulate by any current means. Also, the term "indecent" has not yet been clearly defined. Because of this, there is no way that is technologically feasible to screen for "indecency" without cutting out legitimate speech, such as discussions about AIDS. Many values groups have complained about how easily children can stumble across indecent material; such is not the case. Even an expert witness from the government (which for the most part favors censorship), said that chances are slim of somebody coming across indecent material (Robischon, 57). The largest argument against regulation comes directly from the Constitution. Citizens are assured of their rights to free speech and freedom of the press, and proponents believe this should also apply to the Internet. From the viewpoint of proponents of free speech, the Internet is seen as the biggest form of free speech in history, and they believe that it should be protected in its infancy (Robischon, 56). At the present time, there seem to be too many obstacles in the way of bringing censorship to the Internet to make it effectively possible. In general, proponents of freedom of speech have been greatly aided by the court system, which had handed down many important decisions. The Communications Decency Act brought about the first real attempt to regulate the Internet. The Act, supported by the Justice Department, quickly faced opposition. Instantly, pro-freedom of speech activists declared the Act unconstitutional. The first major blow to the Act came on June 11, 1996, when a Philadelphia court struck down the Act, declaring it unconstitutional (Yang, 72). Quickly thereafter, a similar ruling was handed down in Manhattan. In July of the same year, in Shea v. Reno, the Act was similarly struck down. The court attacked the Act, calling it "Too broad to be effective" (Reid, 11). These court rulings stated that indecency was best addressed by teachers and parents and that the government should not interfere. They were hailed as landmark cases in the fight for first amendment rights. They have been called "The Times v. Sullivan of cyberspace." This refers to a 1964 ruling that protected the rights of journalists (Robischon, 56). Although there are no ways the Net is currently being regulated, operators of websites have taken measures in an effort to please those in support of regulation. Almost all indecent and "spicy" sites now use warning pages which warn the user that he/she must be over 18 to access that site. Many sites have more than one of these, and most even provide alternate links to more "friendly" pages (Robischon, 57). However, this doesn't prevent the person from going into the site, it merely offers a warning. It is debatable if these pages do any good, especially with teenage users. Currently there are many filter programs available that allow parents to designate different access levels to each child. The major online services (i.e. America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, and The Microsoft Network) are following this path, and allow parents to regulate each user's level of access. These programs often come with a list of sites that cannot be accessed when the program is used; this list cannot be erased, only added to. They also disallow the use of certain words in e-mail and newsgroup messages. These words are programmed by the parent and can include the child's name, address, and/or telephone number. Finally, these programs can deny use of certain newsgroups. They give an accurate example of how parents can safeguard their children without government interference. The question of the future of the Internet will be one to debate as we pass into the next millennia, and will continue until an adequate means is reached. At the present, this solution is nowhere in sight. Until further research is done and people are further educated, censorship of the Internet cannot be achieved without limiting constitutional guarantees. Bibliography Curtis, S. "Policing Cyberspace." [Programs to block out pornography.] Maclean's, 19 Feb. 1996, pp. 56-7. Dodd, J. "Who owns the Information?" PC Novice, May 1996, pp. 73-4. Frankel, M. "Intellectual Popcorn for the Net." The New York Times Magazine, 21 April 1996, pp. 26. Gleick, J. "This is Sex?" The New York Times Magazine, 11 June 1995, pp. 26. "Grappling with the Internet." World Press Review, June 1996, pp. 14-5. Gray, V.L. "Policing the Net." Black Enterprise, Dec. 1996, pp. 26. Jones, M. "Censorship in Cyberspace." Home Office Computing, Nov. 1994, pp. 18. Reid, C. "Supreme Court to Review." Net anti-smut statute. Publishers Weekly, 16 Dec. 1996, pp. 11. Robischon, N. "Software Filters: How Well Do They Work?" Time, 24 June 1996, pp. 57. Yang, C. "Justice is Blind, but Net-Savvy." Business Week, 1 July 1996, pp. 72+. As the end of the twentieth century nears, a new medium and tool has emerged as the future of communications, business, news, education, and entertainment. This tool is the Internet, a worldwide network of computers currently connected by phone lines. While it is still in its infancy, its power as a medium is very great, and this is being recognized ever more frequently by the businesses and people it connects. However, it is also abundant with information that is considered inappropriate, adult, and/or vulgar by many people. Many social groups and politicians are alarmed at how children and teenagers can readily access this material. Around the world, the call has gone out for restriction and censorship of the Internet. This rally has been met with mixed results. People who support freedom of speech on the Internet quote from the first amendment of the Constitution. In addition, many groups are in favor of restricting the Internet, similarly to how television is regulated in the United States. In favor of this regulation are groups emphasizing values and some foreign governments. In the latter, often the government does not want the citizens being introduced to new ideas, which may cause discontent and unrest in some cases. Whether the Internet should and can be censored is one debate which affects much of the modern world. Though there are strong arguments on both sides, by examining evidence it can be decided that there is no feasible way to regulate the Internet at the present time in the United States. Before any censorship can even be attempted, some serious questions must be answered. The most important of these is "What is the Internet's identity?" What this means is that the type of media the Internet represents has not yet been determined. It must be decided whether the "Net" is considered a broadcast system, which could be subject to regulation, or a communications system like phone and mail systems, which could not be legally regulated (Jones, 18). Additionally, values and morals must be questioned. Many people believe that responsibility should be handled between parents and children, not by the government. The American people and people around the world may not be willing to hand this responsibility to politicians, who could hypothetically use this power to their advantage in some situations. Many proponents of Internet restriction have rallied around "community standards." However, it should be noted that these standards have not yet been implemented in any medium currently available, with the exception of television (Robischon, 57). Even here, their effectiveness is the source of fierce debate. The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently submitted a list of Internet sites which negatively depict Latinos, Jews, Gays, and African Americans (Jones, 18). Though such ideas may seem disgusting to many people, free speech is protected in the Constitution, and a child with "proper" values would not be drawn to this type of site in the first place. People, not the computers that simply relay the information are to blame for situations such as this. Lack of understanding of the Internet is also a reason opposition has risen, particularly within the U.S. Congress. Most senators have admitted that they are net-illiterate (Yang, 73). This situation has caused Internet proponents to strive towards educating Congress through use of demonstrations on the Senate floor. Another question that must be answered is whether current obscenity laws can be applied to the Internet. Before any action can be taken, these questions and countless others must be answered. Another reason the Internet is not censurable is because of its vastness. The Internet contains chat groups and newsgroups, which are bulletin boards where individuals can "post" messages. These messages can be read by anyone in the world and are so numerous that they are impossible to regulate. On average, there are about 10,000 chat groups available on each Internet service provider (James, 26). The huge number of messages sent each day would be impossible to control and regulate by any current means. Also, the term "indecent" has not yet been clearly defined. Because of this, there is no way that is technologically feasible to screen for "indecency" without cutting out legitimate speech, such as discussions about AIDS. Many values groups have complained about how easily children can stumble across indecent material; such is not the case. Even an expert witness from the government (which for the most part favors censorship), said that chances are slim of somebody coming across indecent material (Robischon, 57). The largest argument against regulation comes directly from the Constitution. Citizens are assured of their rights to free speech and freedom of the press, and proponents believe this should also apply to the Internet. From the viewpoint of proponents of free speech, the Internet is seen as the biggest form of free speech in history, and they believe that it should be protected in its infancy (Robischon, 56). At the present time, there seem to be too many obstacles in the way of bringing censorship to the Internet to make it effectively possible. In general, proponents of freedom of speech have been greatly aided by the court system, which had handed down many important decisions. The Communications Decency Act brought about the first real attempt to regulate the

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