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Censorship Essay, Research Paper

During the last decade, our society has become based on the sole ability

to move large amounts of information across great distances quickly.

Computerization has influenced everyone’s life in numerous ways. The natural

evolution of computer technology and this need for ultra-fast communications has

caused a global network of interconnected computers to develop. This global

network allows a person to send E-mail across the world in mere fractions of a

second, and allows a common person to access wealths of information worldwide.

This newfound global network, originally called Arconet, was developed and

funded solely by and for the U.S. government. It was to be used in the event of

a nuclear attack in order to keep communications lines open across the country

by rerouting information through different servers across the country. Does

this mean that the government owns the Internet, or is it no longer a tool

limited by the powers that govern. Generalities such as these have sparked

great debates within our nation’s government. This paper will attempt to focus

on two high profile ethical aspects concerning the Internet and its usage.

These subjects are Internet privacy and Internet censorship.

At the moment, the Internet is epitome of our first amendment, free

speech. It is a place where a person can speak their mind without being

reprimanded for what they say or how they choose to say it. But also contained

on the Internet, are a huge collection of obscene graphics, Anarchists’

cookbooks, and countless other things that offend many people. There are over

30 million Internet surfers in the U.S. alone, and much is to be said about what

offends whom and how.

As with many new technologies, today’s laws don’t apply well when it

comes to the Internet. Is the Internet like a bookstore, where servers can not

be expected to review every title? Is it like a phone company who must ignore

what it carries because of privacy; or is it like a broadcast medium, where the

government monitors what is broadcast? The problem we are facing today is that

the Internet can be all or none of the above depending on how it is used.

Internet censorship, what does it mean? Is it possible to censor

amounts of information that are all alone unimaginable? The Internet was

originally designed to “find a way around” in case of broken communications

lines, and it seems that explicit material keeps finding its “way around” too.

I am opposed to such content on the Internet and therefore am a firm believer in

Internet censorship. However, the question at hand is just how much censorship

the government impose. Because the Internet has become the largest source of

information in the world, legislative safeguards are indeed imminent. Explicit

material is not readily available over the mail or telephone and distribution of

obscene material is illegal. Therefore, there is no reason this stuff should go

unimpeded across the Internet. Sure, there are some blocking devices, but they

are no substitute for well-reasoned law. To counter this, the United States has

set regulations to determine what is categorized as obscenity and what is not.

By laws set previously by the government, obscene material should not be

accessible through the Internet. The problem society is now facing is that

cyberspace is like a neighborhood without a police department. “Outlaws” are

now able to use powerful cryptography to send and receive uncrackable

communications across the Internet. Devices set up to filter certain

communications cannot filter that which cannot be read, which leads to my other

topic of interest: data encryption.

By nature, the Internet is an insecure method of transferring data. A

single E-mail packet may pass through hundreds of computers between its source

and destination. At each computer, there is a chance that the data will be

archived and someone may intercept the data, private or not. Credit card

numbers are a frequent target of hackers. Encryption is a means of encoding

data so that only someone with the proper “key” can decode it. So far, recent

attempts by the government to control data encryption have failed. They are

concerned that encryption will block their monitoring capabilities, but there is

nothing wrong with asserting our privacy. Privacy is an inalienable right given

to us by our constitution.

For example, your E-mail may be legitimate enough that encryption is

unnecessary. If you we do indeed have nothing to hide, then why don’t we send

our paper mail on postcards? Are we trying to hide something? In comparison,

is it wrong to encrypt E-mail?

Before the advent of the Internet, the U.S. government controlled most

new encryption techniques. But with the development of the WWW and faster home

computers, they no longer have the control they once had. New algorithms have

been discovered that are reportedly uncrackable even by the FBI and NSA. The

government is concerned that they will be unable to maintain the ability to

conduct electronic surveillance into the digital age. To stop the spread of

data encryption software, they have imposed very strict laws on its exportation.

One programmer, Phil Zimmerman, wrote an encryption program he called PGP

(Pretty Good Privacy). When he heard of the government’s intent to ban

distribution encryption software, he immediately released the program to be

public for free. PGP’s software is among the most powerful public encryption

tool available.

The government has not been totally blind by the need for encryption.

The banks have sponsored an algorithm called DES, that has been used by banks

for decades. While to some, its usage by banks may seem more ethical, but what

makes it unethical for everyone else to use encryption too? The government is

now developing a new encryption method that relies on a microchip that may be

placed inside just about any type of electronic equipment. It is called the

Clipper chip and is 16 million times more powerful than DES and today’s fastest

computers would take approximately 400 billion years to decipher it. At the

time of manufacture, the chips are loaded with their own unique key, and the

government gets a copy. But don’t worry the government promises that they will

use these keys only to read traffic when duly authorized by law. But before

this new chip can be used effectively, the government must get rid of all other

forms of cryptography.

The relevance of my two topics of choice seems to have been conveniently

overlooked by our government. Internet privacy through data encryption and

Internet censorship are linked in one important way. If everyone used

encryption, there would be no way that an innocent bystander could stumble upon

something they weren’t meant to see. Only the intended receiver of an encrypted

message can decode it and view its contents; the sender isn’t even able to view

such contents. Each coded message also has an encrypted signature verifying the

sender’s identity. Gone would be the hate mail that causes many problems, as

well as the ability to forge a document with someone else’s address. If the

government didn’t have ulterior motives, they would mandate encryption, not

outlaw it.

As the Internet grows throughout the world, more governments may try to

impose their views onto the rest of the world through regulations and censorship.

If too many regulations are enacted, then the Internet as a tool will become

nearly useless, and our mass communication device, a place of freedom for our

mind’s thoughts will fade away. We must regulate ourselves as not to force the

government to regulate us. If encryption is allowed to catch on, there will no

longer be a need for the government to intervene on the Internet, and the

biggest problem may work itself out. As a whole, we all need to rethink our

approach to censorship and encryption and allow the Internet to continue to grow

and mature.

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