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Government Censorship Essay, Research Paper
Thesis: Government Censorship would damage the atmosphere of the freedom to express ideas on
the Internet; therefore, government should not encourage censorship.
I. In the Internet community, there is a large volume of technical terms. For this reason, it is first
necessary to examine the terminology specific to Internet.
1.The internet is a world wide computer network.
1.Electronic mail (email), which is one component of the Internet, approximates person
to person letters, memoranda, notes and even phone calls.
2.Another term that is often used is electronic news (enews/Usenet), enews is a
broadcast, free to the Internet medium.
3.The term FTP is also frequently used. File transfer protocol (FTP) started as an
Internet archival and retrieval medium, somewhat analogous to traditional libraries.
4.The world-wide web (WWW), which is another component of the Net, can be used
to “publish” material that would traditionally appear in journals, magazines, posters,
books, television and even on film.
2.It is also essential to give a brief history on the internet.
3.The U.S. government is now trying to pass bills to prevent misuse of the Net.
II. In order to understand the need for the ever-growing body of legislation, it is important to
explore the controversy, and the current problems involved with the Net as it exists must be
1.The problem that concerns most people is offensive materials such as pornography.
2.Another crucial internet crime is the stealing of credit card numbers.
III. One reaction to this inapplicability has been the “Censor the Net” approach (the censorship
bill), we are now to compare its advantages and disadvantages.
1.First, the meaning of “Censoring the Net” must be explained.
2.However, many experts have pointed out that government censorship is not possible.
1.First, it is not fair to exclude the freedom and damage the atmosphere of freely
expressing ideas just for the safety of children.
2.Most internet users are enjoying their freedom of speech on the Net, which is
supposed to be protected by our First Amendment.
3.Additionally, only a very small portion of the Net contains offensive material, most
people do not use the Net for pornography.
4.It must be understood that censoring the Net is technically impossible.
5.While people are concerned about Internet pornography, it should be recognized that
pornography is sometimes legal; for example, pornography is legal in video and
IV. There are many alternative measures to government censorship which would prevent misuse of
the Net and would have the same effects as censorship.
1.It is very important for parents to provide moral guidance for their children, and parents
should have this responsibility.
2.However, at the same time as we carry out moral guidance, we have to come out with some
short term approaches to solve the problem in a more efficient way as well.
3.An alternative to government censorship is the technological fix, which would prevent
misuse of the Net and would have the same effects as government censorship.
1.One example of technological fix is the “SurfWatch” software.
2.Also, commercial Internet service providers, such as “America Online”, allow parents
to control what Internet relay chat (IRC) sessions are available to their children.
3.Another technological fix is for parents and guardians to have a separate “proxy
server” for their children’s web browser.
4.There are no computer programs to automatically and reliably classify material; only people
can do it. As a result, while practicing technological fixes, the classification of the contents of
the material when posting is very important.
5.Nowadays, most internet users classify their postings with standard categories, and leave
signatures at the end of postings.
6.The combination of the installation of censoring software and the classification of materials is
a much better solution than government 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 conspires to protect children, but there are no social or physical
constraints to Internet surfing.
The Internet Censorship Bill of 1995, also known as the Exon/Coats Communications Decency
Act, has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. It 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” (”Stop the Communications …” n.p.). The goal of this bill as written
(though not as stated by its proponents) is to try to make all public discourse on the Internet
suitable for young children. The issue of whether is it necessary to have censorship on the Internet
is being argued all over the world. There are numerous homepages on the World Wide Web
discussing this issue, or asking people to sign the petition to stop government censorship.
The Internet was originally a place for people to freely express their ideas worldwide. It is also one
of America’s most valuable types of technology; scientists use email for quick and easy
communication. They post their current scientific discoveries on the Usenet newsgroups so other
scientists in the same field of study all over the world can know in minutes. Ordinary people use
the Net for communication, expressing their opinions in the newsgroups, obtaining up-to-date
information from the WWW, acquiring files by using FTP, etc. Censorship would damage the
atmosphere of the freedom to express ideas on the Internet; therefore, government should not
In the Internet community, there is a large volume of technical terms. For this reason, it is first
necessary to examine the terminology specific to Internet. The Internet is a world wide computer
network. The “Net” is frequently used in place of Internet. In the words of Allison and Baxter, two
experts on Internet Censorship at the Monash University, “the Internet is comprised of various
digital media subsuming many of the distinct roles of traditional media” (Allison and Baxter 3).
Electronic mail (email), which is one component of the Internet, approximates person to person
letters, memoranda, notes and even phone calls. Sound and pictures are sometimes sent along with
text. Email is mainly for private communication. Electronic mailing lists are rather like club
newsletters and readers have to contract-in or subscribe to a list.
Another term that is often used is electronic news (enews/Usenet), enews is a broadcast, free to
the Internet medium. It has some properties of radio or television, particularly talk-back radio or
television, in that the destination is indiscriminate.
The term FTP is also frequently used. File transfer protocol (FTP) started as an Internet archival
and retrieval medium, somewhat analogous to traditional libraries. Files can be retrieved from
distant computers using a traditional text-based interface.
The world-wide web (WWW), which is another component of the Net, can be used to “publish”
material that would traditionally appear in journals, magazines, posters, books, television and even
on film. The term UNIX, “a widely heard computer term, is a multi-user, multitasking operating
system originally developed by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, at AT&T Bell Laboratories, in
1969 for use on minicomputers” (”UNIX” n.p.).
To understand the background of the controversy, it is also necessary to give a brief history on the
Internet. The Internet was created about twenty years ago in an attempt to connect a U.S. Defense
Department network called the ARPAnet and various other radio and satellite networks. The
ARPAnet was an experimental network designed to support military research; in particular,
research about how to build networks that could withstand partial outages (such as bomb attacks)
and still function. At about the same time the Internet was coming into being, Ethernet local area
networks (”LANs”) were developed. Most of these workstations came with Berkeley UNIX,
which included IP (Internet Protocol) networking software. This created a new demand: rather
than connecting to a single large timesharing computer per site, organizations wanted to connect
the ARPAnet to their entire local network. The demand keeps growing today. Now that most
four-year colleges are connected to the Net, people are trying to get secondary and primary
schools connected. People who have graduated from college where they have used the resources
of the Net in classes, know what the Internet is good for, and talk their employers into connecting
different corporations. All this activity points to continued growth, networking problems to solve,
evolving technologies, and job security for networkers (Willmott 107).
The Internet can also 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 constituent 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” (Hentoff 1). 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.
The U.S. government is now trying to pass bills to prevent misuse of the Net. The Internet
Censorship Bill of 1995, which has already been discuss earlier, was introduced to the U.S.
Congress. Under the Censorship Bill, a person breaks the law if he/she puts a purity test on a web
page without making sure children cannot access the page. Also, if a person verbally assaults
someone on IRC, 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
In order to understand the need for the ever-growing body of legislation, it is important to explore
the controversy, and the current problems involved with the Net as it exists must be introduced.
The problem that concerns most people is offensive material such as pornography. As pointed out
by Allison and Baxter, “Possible (offensive) topics are behavior (drugs, … ), nudity,
political/economic/social opinion, violence, racial/ethnic, religious, coarse language, sexual/gender
orientation, [and] sexuality” (Allison and Baxter 3). Since the Internet is open to everyone, children
are very easily exposed to such material. According to Allison and Baxter, “the information
provided on the Internet, particularly through the WWW, ranges across train time-tables,
university lecture notes, books, art exhibits, film promotions, the wisdom and ravings of individuals
and, yes, pornographic pictures” (Allison and Baxter 3). Moreover, many high schools in the
United States provide Internet access to students, which is very useful for looking up information,
but if a student intends to look for inappropriate material, he/she is very likely to find such material
simply by doing an Internet search.
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” (Warren 52). Americans have to come up with a solution in order to keep children away
from inappropriate material and to prevent misuses of the Net.
One reaction to this inapplicability has been the “Censor the Net” approach (the censorship bill),
which is being debated worldwide. First, the meaning of “Censoring the Net” must be explained.
Simply, it is the banning of offensive material. To see if the government should censor the Net, it is
imperative to list the advantages and disadvantages of the “censor the Net” approach. The
advantage of government censorship is that ideally, children and teenagers could be kept away
from unsuitable material.
However, 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” (Rheingold n.p.).
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”
(Corn-Revere 24). It is clear that Senator Exon introduced the bill to prevent minors from viewing
unsuitable material on the Net. In addition, Meleedy, a computer science graduate student at
Harvard University, questions that if “the Internet makes democracy this accessible to the average
citizen, is it any wonder Congress wants to censor it?” (Meleedy 1) Allison and Baxter assert that,
“the most significant new properties of the Internet media are the diversity of information sources
and their ability to reach almost anywhere in the world. Authors range from major corporations
such as IBM and Disney to school children” (Allison and Baxter 3). 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” (Corn-Revere 70). 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. According to Corn-Reverse, “it has been
suggested that, ‘on-line systems give people far more genuinely free speech and free press than
ever before in human history’” (Corn-Reverse 71). Rheingold predicts that “Heavy-handed
attempts to impose restrictions on the unruly but incredibly creative anarchy of the Net could kill
the spirit of cooperative knowledge-sharing that makes the Net valuable to millions” (Rheingold
n.p.). The freedom of idea expression is what makes the Internet important and enjoyable, and it
should not be waived for any reason.
Additionally, only a very small portion of the Net contains offensive material, most people do not
use the Net for pornography. Caragata from Maclean’s magazine observes that, “it is pornography
that stirs the most controversy. But while there is no doubt that pornography is popular, it amounts
to a trickle compared with everything else available on the Net” (Caragata 51). The Net is mostly
being used for communication and information exchange, and only a tiny portion of the Net
contains pornography and other offensive material.
It must be understood that censoring the Net is technically impossible. According to Allison and
Baxter, “in principle, it is impossible to monitor all material being transmitted on the Internet.
Considering the difficulties with international boundaries, a licensing system faces many obvious
practical hurdles” (Allison and Baxter 6). As described by Allison and Baxter, “Any good
Computer Science graduate can create a completely secure encryption system for concealment
purposes. The material can even be disguised, for example hidden ‘inside’ a perfectly innocuous
picture” (Allison and Baxter 6). Therefore, if a person wants to publish offensive material, he/she
can design a formula to change the material with respect to a key, and secretly tell other users what
the key is. In this way, they can retrieve the same material and pass through the government
While people are concerned about Internet pornography, it should be recognized that pornography
is sometimes legal; for example, pornography is legal in video and magazines. Therefore, it is
inconsistent to ban the Internet equivalents. According to Rheingold, “Citizens should have the right
to restrict the information-flow into their homes. They should be able to exclude from their home
any subject matter that they do not want their children to see. But sooner or later, their children will
be exposed to everything from which they have shielded them , and then they will have left to deal
with these shocking sights and sound in the moral fiber they helped them cultivate” (Rheingold
n.p.). The Internet is definitely not the only medium for teenagers to find inappropriate material.
Even if the Net does not have any, teenagers could also be exposed to indecorous material in
many other places. For example, Allison and Baxter say that, “most authors using electronic media
do not produce material that is any ‘worse’ than that available from news agents, video shops, or
mail-order sources” (Allison and Baxter 8). On that account, if the purpose of censoring is to
prevent minors from being exposed to indecorous material, not only the Net has to be censored.
Censoring the Net will only eliminate one single medium for minors to find irrelevant material.
Government censorship is not the solution to the problem, and alternatives measures that have
same effects as censorship can be practiced.
There are many alternative measures to government censorship which would prevent misuse of the
Net and would have the same effects as censorship. According to Hentoff, “there are ways to
protect children without the Act’s intervention: blockage of certain areas, passwords, parental
supervision. And adults–under protection of the First Amendment–can remain protected from
government thought control. However, if the censorship bill is passed, the First Amendment may
effectively be excluded from cyberspace” (Hentoff 1).
It is very important for parents to provide moral guidance for their children, and parents should
have this responsibility. Moral guidance is the foremost long-term solution to the problem.
Rheingold believes that, “this technological shock (pornography on the Net) to Americans’ moral
codes means that in the future, Americans are going to have to teach their children well. The only
protection that has a chance of working is to give their sons and daughters moral grounding and
some common sense” (Rheingold n.p.). In America, minors can be exposed to sexual material in
many media. Providing children with moral guidance is the foremost solution to the problem.
However, at the same time that parents carry out moral guidance, Americans have to come out
with some short term approaches to solve the problem in a more efficient way as well. An
alternative to government censorship is the technological fix, which would prevent misuse of the
Net and would have the same effects as government censorship. This involves the design of
intelligent software to filter information. There is a rush to develop information filtering software and
get it to market. One example of technological fix is the “SurfWatch” software, as described by
Allison and Baxter, “SurfWatch is a breakthrough software product which helps parents deal with
the flood of sexual material on the Internet. By allowing parents to be responsible for blocking
what is being received at any individual computer, children and others have less chance of
accidentally or deliberately being exposed to unwanted material. SurfWatch is the first major
advance in providing a technical solution to a difficult issue created by the explosion of technology.
SurfWatch strives to preserve Internet freedom by letting individuals choose what they see”
(Allison, Baxter 6). The SurfWatch vendor intends to provide monthly updates to cope with the
fast changing Internet. Also, commercial Internet service providers, such as “America Online”,
allow parents to control what Internet relay chat (IRC) sessions are available to their children
(Cidley 59). Parental Control is a feature in many commercial Internet service providers, users can
turn on the Parental Control function, and they will automatically be kept away from offensive
words in IRC. In this way, children can be kept away from offensive material and adults can
continue to enjoy their Internet freedom.
Another technological fix is for parents and guardians to have a separate “proxy server” for their
children’s web browser. A “proxy server” is a program that disallows uses of some specified
Internet sites or Usenet newsgroups. The parents need to actively select sites their proxy server
can access. Parental control tools is a very possible solution to the problem, as stated in the
“Communications Decency Act Issues Page” by the Center for Democracy and Technology, “what
will help parents control their children’s access to the Internet is Parental Control tools and
features, such as those provided by several major online services and available as
over-the-counter software” (”Stop the Communications …” n.p.). Tools for controlling Internet
access by children are widely available, and parents can already control their children’s access to
the material on the Net.
There are no computer programs to automatically and reliably classify material; only people can do
it. As a result, while practicing technological fixes, the classification of the contents of the material
when posting is very important. Nowadays, most Internet users classify their postings with
standard categories, and leave signatures at the end of postings. According to Allison and Baxter,
“items are signed with a secure digital signature that can be traced to a real person, company or
organization” (Allison, Baxter 4). The strengths of the material are often classified as “strong” or
“weak”, and attitudes of a given document towards a topic are often classified as “advocates”,
“discusses”, “deplores”, or “does not discuss”. Additionally, in order to reduce the effort of
classifying many individual items, particularly in the case of FTP and WWW, classifications are
often attached to directories and inherited by subdirectories and documents. In this way, readers
can make informed decisions regarding access of Internet material, and the programming of
intelligent software will be much easier: just by recognizing a small number of terms of
classification. As a matter of fact, the classification of material has already been done on the Net
for a period of time. Most Internet materials are well classified, and people will have an idea of
what they are going to see beforehand. For instance, the articles in a particular Usenet newsgroup
can be accurately predicted by the name of the group. For example,
soc.culture.hongkong.entertainment contains discussion of the entertainment industry of Hong
Kong; alt.binaries.sex.pictures contains encoded binary files of dirty pictures. Internet users know
what they are approaching beforehand, and minors know that they are not supposed to browse
those alt.sex.* newsgroups.
The combination of the installation of censoring software and the classification of material is a much
better solution than government censorship. Hentoff mentions that “flexibility of interactive
media…enables parents to control what content their kids have access to, and leaves the flow of
information free for those adults who want it” (Hentoff 1). This prevents unwanted material from
reaching children and allows adults to continue enjoying their Internet freedom.
The problem of the Net is that it is easy for minors to obtain inappropriate materials. The American
government came up with a proposal to censor the Net, but as proved earlier, the “Censor the
Net” approach is both technically and politically impossible. The foremost solution to the problem
is for parents to provide moral guidance for their children. At the same time they are providing
moral guidance for their children, Americans also need short term technical solution. Intelligent
censoring software and proxy servers can let parents disallow their children access to certain sites.
In this way, parents can keep their children from the offensive materials on the Net. “Like other
dilemmas and unanswered questions of the digital age, traditional approaches (government
censorship) simply won’t work. Americans are going to have to accept less intrusive, probably
more exotic solutions, such as providing intelligent software filters to those who want a version of
Internet Lite [sic]” (Baker 65).
For intelligent software and proxy servers to operate successfully, it is necessary to classify the
information available on the Net, and the classification of materials has already been done by
Internet users for years. Parents can then censor the Net for their children, and adults can continue
to enjoy their Internet freedom. This will provide the same effect as government censorship, but
will not damage the atmosphere of free idea expression and freedom on the Net.
Moreover, indecorous materials are not only on the Net, minors can obtain such materials without
accessing the Internet at all. Internet censorship is not the solution to keeping minors away from
sexual material. The real and foremost solution to preventing minors from viewing sexual material is
for parents to take a stronger role in their children’s viewing. “This technological shock
(pornography on the Net) to Americans’ moral codes means that in the future, Americans are
going to have to teach their children well. The only protection that has a chance of working is to
give their sons and daughters moral grounding and some common sense” (Rheingold n.p.).
Allison, L., and R. Baxter. Protecting Our Innocents.
Caragata, Warren. “Crime in the Cyberspace.” Maclean’s 22 May 1995: 50+.
Cidley, Joe. “Red light district.” Maclean’s 22 May 1995: 58+.
Corn-Revere. “New Age Comstockery: Exan vs the Internet Policy Analysis No. 232.” Diss.
Howgan & Hartson Law Firm, 1995.
Hentoff, Frances. “Indecent Proposal.” Entertainment Weekly 31 March, 1995.
Meleedy, David. “Internet Censorship.” Diss. Harvard University, 1995.
Melloan, George. “Science Miracles Sprout From Creative Freedom.” The Wall Street Journal 26
June 1995: A13.
Philip, Elmer-Derwitt. “Porn on the Internet.” Time 3 July 1995: 38+.
Rheingold, Howard. Rheingold’s Tomorrow: Why Censoring Cyberspace is Dangerous & Futile.
Sanchez, Robert. “A Wired Education.” Internet World 4 October 1995: 71+.
“Stop the Communications Decency Act.” CDT’s Communications Decency Act Issues Page.
“UNIX.” Microsoft Encarta. Vers. 95. Computer Software. Encyclopedia Software, 1995. MS
Windows 3.1, 0.6 GB, CD-ROM.
Willmott, Don. “Activities on the Internet.” PC Magazine 10 October 1995: 106+.
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