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The Internet And The First Amendment Essay, Research Paper

Modern America has been advancing since the technology boom, and one of the biggest changes that came from it was the invention of the computer. Along with this led the way for the Internet, the fastest growing object that the government can t control. Without this control over the Internet becomes a big problem, how far can we take the first amendment on the Internet? If the Internet is accessible by mostly all family s can and should they have the right to speak what ever they want to? This is a debate that brings to strong sides to the table. On one side you have the group of people whom believe that going along with the first amendment, freedom of speech is one of the most important parts and valid reasons to have the Internet. It is a faster way to communicate with friends, relatives or even to send out messages to millions of people with one small click. On the other side of the argument you have the group of people who believe the government should filter and sensor what we see and that they should control what goes on the Internet and what the common man can access from the Internet. Some say that this battle should be fought at the local level and some even think of this as a supreme court case, but with both sides of the argument, who is to decide which is the right and just way to regulate the internet. Despite the court s decision, lawmakers and lawyers continue to disagree over the legality of regulating the Internet (Evans). This causes problems for the legal system because the Internet is near to impossible to control. In one way or another most decisions for laws that could be made will in the long run upset some group or someway be found unconstitutional because of the difference in the democracy of our government. So to put barriers on what information can flow on the Internet is going to take a long time to draw out and decide what is appropriate and what is against the law.

Supreme Court Cases

Over the past years many battles have been fought on the Supreme Court level for the justification of the first amendment to the Internet. In the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution it states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech Congress had passed a law called the Communications Decency Act, what this act was intended to do was protect children from explicit material on the Internet. In Section 223(a)(1) the act criminalized the transmission of obscene or indecent messages to children. In Section 223(d) the knowing , sending, or displaying of any message that describes offensive or sexual actions was prohibited. All though this seemed like a good idea the Supreme Court ruled this as a violation of the first amendment. The (act) effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another (Evans). Another break through case was ACLU vs. Reno, fought by many civil rights and activist groups. This battle was brought on because of the Communications Decency Act, and the fact that it criminalizes expressions that are protected by the first amendment; it is also impermissibly overbroad and vague; and it is not the least restrictive means of accomplishing any compelling governmental purpose (www.aclu.org). The outcome of this case gave the right to free speech on the Internet for the next century. Because of the broadness of the term freedom of speech defined in the first amendment it is hard to tell when has gone to far. These types of cases caused a major reaction to what in effect would take away everyone s civil right to freedom of speech. Another issue that was brought up as a case was Anonymous speech on the Internet. This was the public leaving messages that some thought of as inappropriate comments but were still ruled by the Supreme Court as rights approved under freedom of speech in the first amendment.

Violence Propelled by the Internet

Many say that one reason that children learn so much violence is because of the Internet and this is one reason why we should control the Internet because it is a haven for people to speak their minds and they deliver the wrong messages to our children. Although this is logical the Internet is a form of speech and must be protected just as any other form of speech. In the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, Charles Brandenburg was convicted of violating an Ohio act, which prohibited the advocating of sabotage and violence. The court found that this statute violated the first amendment, right to speech, and was therefore null and void. Just as Brandenburg s right to speech was protected, Internet speech must be protected. A child can attend a Ku Klux Klan rally which preaches hate speech, however, if the child s parents are concerned about protecting the child from such speech then they must keep the child away from such assemblies. The Internet is commonly called a forum and can be compared to an assembly. It is the responsibility of the parents to know what their children are doing on the Internet and which web pages, chat rooms, and newsgroups the child is attending. Just television shows have ratings, most web pages and forums with obscene or violent material have disclaimers. It is necessary that the parents are aware of these disclaimers and where their children are going on the Internet. However, there are certain types of speech which are not protected by the first amendment. The Internet is a public forum and should be treated as one. Just as you cannot say you are going to kill the president in public, you cannot say this on the Internet. The clear and present danger doctrine, established in the Supreme Court case Schenk v. U.S. applies here. This doctrine states that any speech that threatens immediate national security is illegal, ex. Anti-draft propaganda during wartime.

The Press and the Internet

A keyword search of the Internet using the term newspaper brought up over 5 million different web pages. The Internet, just as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines is a medium for the media. The constitution states congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press The Internet cannot be easily regulated when being used for media purposes. Because of the way the Internet rapidly, it has become one of the number one ways for the press to get its message out. However there are certain limitations on the press. Libel, or the defamation of government and its officials is restricted by the constitution. Slander is the misrepresenting of persons. Libel and slander are illegal because they commonly state false accusations. With this limitation comes an understanding between the press and the government, which in effect allows for the government to effectively regulate the some information provided on the Internet. Advancements in technology bring about advancements in the way the media works. Just because the media has found a new medium does not mean the government must find new ways to regulate it. In recent years, the Internet has become the main artery of communication for press freedom. The speed and relatively low cost of e-mail has empowered individuals and organizations with few resources and even less international exposure to bring immediate attention to those arrested or endangered for speaking out (www.nabanet.com/news/Freedom_11_05_00.html). Events like this one are reasons to support press freedom because if you can t speak out, not only have you lost your freedom to press but also to speech.

Religion and the Internet

Just like the press, religion also uses the Internet as a way to gain an audience or to send out a message. With email and web pages different religious groups find there masses and bring a personal appeal to their church or their religious organization. Many restrictions on the Internet can possibly have a long-term effect on religious groups spreading their message to the masses. For the government to restrict someone else s religion goes against the first amendment, for example, if a religious denomination worships in the nude and wants to post it on the internet, who gives the authority to the government to say that putting that on the internet is a violation of the first amendment. Just like in the Communications Decency Act, this would also hinder the religious part of the first amendment. With the prohibition of graphic materials on the Internet, which could have happened, many religious groups would not be able to show their message. Although some religious groups send messages out that could influence or persuade the wrong message the government still cannot oppress it. Even religious cults can publish anything they want on the Internet just so long as it doesn t violate national security and it doesn t afflict death on others. This is the right given under the first amendment to ever citizen of the U.S. For a religious group to be neglected for reasons that pertain to the first amendment would be just the same as neglecting the press from covering news broadcasts. This is what protects freedom of religion now as it did back when the colonists worried about religious oppression.

What Restriction is needed?

The question that is most important in the government right now is how can they can control what is going on in the world of cyberspace, without violating the national rights in the constitution. Whether or not it means starting with information coming from abroad by international means or for the most part just grasping into the reality that it is an expanding world with large capabilities. If the most pressing issue is what our children see on the web, then that should be left up to the parents. Many programs have been made for parents to choose what is accessed and what is restricted on a personal computer. If you give a person an inch they will take a mile, this is one of the main concepts of why the Internet has expanded so much. But along with expansion came those very programs that restrict and keep important information from getting to our school. The Senate Commerce Committee approved the “Internet School Filtering Act” (S. 1619). The bill would require schools and libraries receiving federal “e-rate” Internet subsidies to certify that they are using filtering software designed to prevent minors from accessing “inappropriate” material (http://csf.colorado.edu/pen-l/may98/0238.html). This act was said to keep important learning materials away from students and is being fought to try and remove the new software systems. So in society you really can t win and you can t please everyone. The government will try to satisfy the general public but someone will always never be happy.

In a world larger than what is in front of our eyes, we have the Internet. A world where the possibilities are endless and the boundaries are endless, we have information being spread over a million bytes a minute. This has been one of the biggest breakthroughs since the computer came out and has given us a far better and advanced way to communicate with friends, family, and business associates. With the Internet came a debate about how the first amendment was to play a role in restricting the content. The Internet relates to the first amendment in almost every aspect of the first amendment. It ties in with freedom of speech because the Internet gives you a faster way to speak your mind with out the hassle of being known or having someone else put you down for it. With this also comes the freedom to press, which gives the press the ability to print or post what ever they want on the internet just so long as is isn t slander, but all this holds true in public just as it would on the Internet. The Internet also boosts freedom to religion because with the ability for any one to access the web and to publish information Church s and religious cults can publish their own web pages. The main goal for the government now is to figure out how exactly to restrict information that they do believe can be proved unconstitutional. But the path is a long way from where it needs to be on how to restrict the Internet, and like Napster there will be many more Supreme Court battles in decided what is just and will up hold our laws. But for the time being, regulation of the Internet can start at home, all it takes is a parent to set what his or her child should see and view. This kind of parental care would be one way to not violate the constitution and to solve many problems of kids getting the wrong impressions about certain subjects. The Internet is a tool, mixed with the first amendment it gives a very interesting way of viewing and finding out things we never knew. The power is in our hands so if we respect the Internet and realize our rights as American citizens we can travel as far as the mind will go

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