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Censorship On The Internet Essay, Research Paper

Censorship on the Internet

Censorship is a word that breeds strong emotions in many people. Whether they are opponents or proponents. Censorship has been around since before the time of the bible. It has produced wars and revolutions. During the time of the Romans censorship was not a problem and they came up with many different types of inventions that during the dark ages were lost and invented again. Not all of this was due to censorship but it was a factor. Much of the knowledge of the Romans would have been completely lost if it were not for munks who’s only job was to copy books. Censorship has always been a staple of Dictatorships and Toleration leaderships. Censorship is great when wanting to take over a nation and put restraints on it. Media has always been the link between government and the people, and if you control that outlet then you have a chance of making people think the way you want them to. These are some of the dangers of censorship.

The Internet is a wonderful place of entertainment and education, but like all places used by millions of people, it has some murky corners people would prefer children not to explore. In the physical world, society as a whole wants to protect children, but there are no social or physical constraints to Internet surfing. With the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the American Congress has prepared to turn the Internet from one of the greatest resources of cultural, social, and scientific information into the online equivalent of a children’s reading room. By invoking the overboard and vague term “indecent” as the standard by which electronic communication should be censored, Congress has insured that information providers seeking to avoid criminal prosecution will close the gates on anything but the most tame information and discussions. The Internet Censorship Bill of 1995, also known as the Exon/Coats Communications Decency Act, would make it a criminal offense to make available to children anything that is indecent, or to send anything indecent with “intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass”1. The goal of this bill is to try to make all public discourse on the Internet suitable for young children. The Communications Decency Act calls for two years of jail time for anyone caught using “indecent” language over the net; as if reading profanities online affects us more dramatically than reading them on paper. Also, a person breaks the law if he/she puts a purity test on a web page without making sure children cannot access the page. In addition, if a person verbally assaults someone, he/she breaks the law. If a university, where some students may be under 18 years old, carries the alt.sex*. newsgroups, which contains adult material, it breaks the law. According to George Melloan from the Wall Street Journal, a censorship bill was passed by the Senate 84-16 in July, and an anticensorship bill was passed by the House 420-4 in August. There are now four different sets of censorship and anticensorship language in the House and Senate versions of the Telecomm reform bill, which contradict each other and will have to be reconciled 2.

It is not necessary for the government to patrol fruitlessly on the Internet when parents can simply install software like Net Nanny or Surf Watch. These programs block all “sensitive” material from entering one’s modem line. What’s more, legislators have already passed effective laws against obscenity and child pornography. There is no need for a redundant Act to accomplish what has already been written. Over 17 million Web pages float throughout cyberspace. Never before has information been so instant, and so global. Never before has the government been so spooked by the potential power “little people” have at their fingertips. The ability for anyone to send pictures and words cheaply and quickly to potentially millions of others seems to terrify the government and control freaks. The American First Amendment states, “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….”3. The Act takes away this right. The issue of whether is it necessary to have censorship on the Internet is being argued all over the world. Censorship would damage the atmosphere of the freedom to express ideas on the Internet; therefore, government should not encourage censorship. The Internet was originally a place for people to freely express their ideas worldwide. It is also one of the world’s most valuable types of technology. Ordinary people use the Net for communication, expressing their opinions, or obtaining up-to-date information from the World Wide Web (WWW). The Internet can be compared to a church. In many ways the Internet is like a church: it has its council of elders, every member has an opinion about how things should work, and they can either take part or not. It’s the choice of the user. The Internet has no president, chief operating officer, or Pope. The networks may have presidents and CEO’s, but that’s a different issue; there is no single authority figure for the Internet as a whole. As stated by Frances Hentoff, the staff writer for The Village Voice and the author of First Freedoms, “on an info superhighway driven by individuals, there are no cops preventing users from downloading”4. Internet users can broadcast

or express anything they want. The fact that the Net has no single authority figure sets

forth a problem about what kind of materials could be available on the Net.

As far as online censorship there are some things that are of questionable or just plain bad taste that some people feel should be illegal. Usually the biggest issue of course is porn on the net. People want porn to be outlawed on the net. This might solve the problem and it might not. The problem is that there is an amazing amount of it out there and it would take constant watch to stop it from being put on the net. There are also other ways of blocking this content from reaching children. Parents have access to many different types of blocking programs, but for that to work the parents have to take care to learn about the internet and computers in general. Currently most children know more about computers than their parents do, but the older generation can change that by just going past their fear and learning.

The internet started out as a tool for transmitting information to learn and study. Free expression on the internet is one of the things that makes the internet great. You can get information on a subject from many different areas. This gives the chance for people to see an issue from other view points. When people begin to have the power to narrow that type of free expression people should be worried. Although porn is not something to necessarily start a revolt over what is censored next might be. Once you open the floodgates on something like censorship it is hard to stop. The government could then decide to not allow anti-goverment viewpoints on the internet. Or who knows what else. This also gets into the privacy issue. In order to stop porn someone would have to view peoples activity on the net and since there are porn carriers who send thing via e-mail they might even check into that, which is already very possible. So you go from free expression to free expression except these things and then those things become more things until it is no longer free expression. Then the internet would just be a propaganda tool for the government.

Another problem is what types of things would be censored. If you just censor porn what will be considered porn some sexual information such as information on std’s occasionally uses pictures that could be considered pornographic to get their point across, and this is extremely useful information in an age like we have now.

Another crucial Internet crime is the theft of credit card numbers. Companies do business on the Net, and credit card numbers are stored on their servers; everyone with the necessary computer knowledge could hack in and obtain such databases for illegal purposes. To cite an instance, the most infamous computer terrorist, Kevin Mitnick, “waived extradition and is now in jail in California, charged with computer fraud and illegal use of a telephone access device. The list of allegations against him include theft of many files and documents, including twenty-thousand credit card numbers from Netcom On-Line Services, which provides thousands with access to the Internet”5. Many experts have pointed out that government censorship is not possible. Howard Rheingold, the editor of the Whole World Review, observes that, “the ‘censor the Net’ approach is not just morally misguided. It’s becoming technically and politically impossible”6. First, it is not fair to exclude the freedom and damage the atmosphere of freely expressing ideas just for the safety of children. Corn-Revere, an expert on Internet censorship at the Howgan & Harson Law Firm, points out that “the purpose of indecency regulation is to keep adult material from falling into the hands of kids. When he first introduced a similar bill last year, Senator Exon said he was concerned that the Information Superhighway was in danger of becoming an electronic ‘red light district’ and that he wanted to bar his granddaughter’s access to unsuitable information”7. It is clear that Senator Exon introduced the bill to prevent minors from viewing unsuitable material on the Net. In addition, Mike Godwin, a computer science graduate student at Harvard University, said that if “the Internet makes democracy this accessible to the average citizen, is it any wonder Congress wants to censor it?”8. As predicted by Corn-Revere, “At the very least, the law will force content providers to make access more difficult, which will affect all users, not just the young”9. Censoring the Net is technically and politically impossible; it will damage the atmosphere of freedom and free idea expression on the Net; therefore, government should not encourage censorship. Most Internet users are enjoying their freedom of speech on the Net, which is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment of the United States. The freedom of idea expression is what makes the Internet important and enjoyable, and it should not be waived for any reason.

Being one of millions of surfers throughout the Internet, I see that fundamental civil liberties are as important in cyberspace as they are in traditional contexts. Cyberspace defined in Webster’s Tenth Edition dictionary is the on-line worlds of networks. The Internet has started to change the way of the world during this decade. More homes, companies, and schools are getting hooked online with the Internet during the past few years. This change has started to become the new way of life present and future. The Internet system is so advanced it is ahead of our time. Some of this might sound a little far fetched, but you have to be worried about these types of issues. Strange things can happen and when the word censorship is being thrown around people should be aware. What will be next once the internet is censored; newspapers, television, radio, and demonstrations. Who knows that’s why censorship needs to stopped in it’s tracks with regard to the internet.


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