Censoring Internet Essay

The freedom of speech that was possible on the Internet could now be
subjected to governmental approvals. For example, China is attempting to
restrict political expression, in the name of security and social stability. It
requires users of the Internet and e-mail to register, so that they can monitor
their activities (Gates). In the United Kingdom, state secrets and personal
attacks are off limits on the Internet. Laws are strict and the government is
extremely interested in regulating the Internet with respect to these issues
(Gates). Laws intended for other types of communication will not necessarily
apply in this group. Through all the components of the Internet it becomes easy
to transfer material that particular governments might find objectionably.

However, all of these ways of communicating on the Internet make up a large and
vast system. For inspectors to monitor every e-mail, every article in every
Newsgroup, every webpage, every IRC channel, every Gopher site, and every FTP
site would be near impossible. Besides taking as extraordinary amount of time
and money, attempts to censor the Internet violate freedom of speech, a right
that is included in democratic constitutions and international laws (Silencing
the Net…). It would be a breach of the First Amendment. The Constitution of
the united States of America Declares that “Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to asse3mble, and to petition the government for a redress
of grievances” (Constitution). Therefore it would be unconstitutional for
any sort of censorship to occur on the Internet. Even though it is illegal,
restrictions on Internet access and content are increasing worldwide under all
forms of government. In France, a country where the press generally has a large
amount of freedom, the Internet has been in the spotlight. A banned book on the
health History of former French president Francois Mitterrand was republished
electronically on the World Wide Web (www). To enforce censorship of the
Internet, free societies find that they are becoming more closed, and closed
societies find new ways to crush political expression and opposition (Silencing
the Net…). Vice President Al Gore, while at an international conference in
Brussels about the Internet, said that “Cyberspace is about protecting and
enlarging freedom of expression for all our citizens… Ideas should not be
checked at the border.”(McCullagh) Another person attending that conference
was Ann Breeson of the American Civil Liberties Union. She is quoted as saying,
“Our big victory at Brussels was that we pressured them enough so that Al
Gore in his keynote address made a big point of stressing the importance of free
speech on the Internet.”(McCullagh) Many other organizations have fought
against laws and have succeeded. A prime example of this is the fight that
various groups put on against the recent Communication Decency Act (CDA) of the
U.S. Senate. The Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, on February 26, 1996,
filed a historic lawsuit in Philadelphia against the U.S. Department of Justice
and Attorney General Janet Reno to make certain that the First Amendment of the
U.S.A would no be compromised by the CDA. Just the range of plantiffs alone
shows the dedication that is felt by many different people and groups to the
cause of tree speech on the Internet (Silberman). “Words like *censored*,
*censored*, piss, and tits. Words of which our mothers (at least some of them)
would no doubt disapprove, but which by no means would be regulated by the
government. Bet it’s not just about dirty words. It’s also it’s also about words
like AIDS, gay, and breasts. It’s about sexual content, and politically
controversial topics like drug addiction, euthanasia, and racism” (Irwin).

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In France, a high court has struck down a bill that promoted the censorship of
the Internet. Other countries have attempted similar moves. The Internet cannot
be regulated like other things can simply because it is not the same as anything
else that we have. It is a totally new and unique form of communication and
deserves to be given a chance to prove itself. Laws of one country cannot be
enforced in another country and this is true with the Internet because the
Internet has no borders. Although North America has the largest share of
servers, the Internet is still a worldwide network. This means that domestic
regulations cannot oversee the rules of foreign countries. It would be just as
easy for an American teenager to download pornographic material from England as
it would be from down the street. One of the major problems is the lack of
physical boundaries, making it difficult to determine where violations of the
law should be prosecuted. There is no one place through which all information
passes. That was one of the key points that was stressed during the original
days of the Internet, then call ARPANET. It started out as a defense project
that would allow communication in the event of an emergency such as nuclear
attack. Without a central authority, information would pass around until it got
where it was going (Sterling). This was intended to be similar to the road
system. It is not necessary to take any specific route but rather anyone goes.

In the same way the information on the Internet starts out and eventually gets
to its destination. The Internet is full of anonymity. Since text is the
standard form of communication on the Internet, it becomes difficult to
determine the identity and/or age of a specific person. Nothing is known for
certain about a person accessing content. There are no signatures or photo-IDs
on the Internet, therefore it is difficult to certify that illegal activities
are taking place. Take for example a conversation on IRC. Two people could be
talking to one another, but all that they see is text. It would be extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to determine the sex and/or age just from the
communication of this type. Then if the person lies about any points mentioned
above it would be extremely difficult to know or prove otherwise. In this way
governments could not restrict access to certain sites on the basis of age. A
thirteen-year-old boy in Slovakia could decide that he wants to download
pornography from an adult site in the U.S. The site may have warnings and age
restrictions but they have no way of stopping him form receiving their material
if he says he is nineteen years old when asked. The complexity in the way
information is passed around the Internet means that if it has been posted,
deleting this material becomes almost impossible. A good example of this is the
junk mail that people refer to as spam. These include e-mails advertising
products or usenet articles that are open for flames. Flames are heated letters
that many times have no meaning behind them. These seem to float around for ages
before dying out because they are perfect material for flamewars. Flamewars are
long, drawn out and highly heated discussions consisting of lames, which often
time are obscene, slander one’s reputation. Mostly these are immature arguments
that are totally pointless except to those involved The millions of people that
participate on the Internet everyday have access to almost all of the data
present. Also, it becomes easy to copy something that exists on the Internet
with just a mere click of a button. The relative ease of copying stuff means
that the second information is posted to the Internet it may be archived
somewhere else. There are in fact many sites on the Internet that are devoted to
the archiving of information including ftp.cdrom.com, www.archive.org, and
wuarchive.wustl.edu. It becomes hard to censor material that might be copied
two, three or more times in a matter of minutes. An example could be the hacking
of the U.S. Department of Justice’s homepage and the hacking of the Central
Intelligence Agency’s homepage. Someone illegally obtained access to the
computer on which these homepages were stored and modified them. It was done as
a prank; however, both of these agencies have since shut down their pages. 2600,
a magazine devoted to hacking, has republished the hacked DoJ and CIA homepages
on their website. The magazine either copied the data straight from the hacked
sites or the hacked site was submitted to the magazine. Whichever is true, is
shows how easy it is for data to be copied and distributed, as well as how
difficult it would be to prevent material deemed inappropriate from appearing
where it should not. The Internet is much too complex a network for censorship
to effectively occur. It is a totally new and unique environment in which
communication happens. Existing laws are not applicable. The lack of definite
boundaries causes confusion as to where violations of law take place. The
Internet is made up of nameless interaction and anonymous communication. The
intricacy of the Internet makes it damn near impossible to delete data that has
been publicized. No country should be allowed to, or even could, regulate or
censor the Internet.

Bradford, Bryan and Mark Krumhoz. “Telecommunications and Decency: Big
Brother Goes Digital.” Suncom Incorporated. June 3, 1998. Gates, Bill.

“Searching for Middle Ground in Online Censorship.” Microsoft
Corporation. June 3, 1998. Irwin, Heather. “Geeks Take to the Street.”
Hotwired.com. June 2, 1998. McCullagh, Declan. “Plague of Freedom.”
Internet Underground. June 3, 1998. Silberman, Steve. “Defending the First
Amendment.” Hotwired.com. June 2, 1998. “Silencing the Net-The Threat
to Freedom of Expression Online.” Human Rights Watch. May 1996. Sterling,
Bruce. “Short History of the Internet.” The Magazine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction. September 1997.


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