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Internet Laws Essay, Research Paper

John Valentine Carroll


Legal Studies Seminar

Internet Privacy

The Internet is a method of communication and a source of information that is becoming more popular among those who are interested in, and have the time to surf the information superhighway. The problem with this much information being accessible to this many people is that some of it is deemed inappropriate for minors. The government wants censorship, but a segment of the population does not. Legislative regulation of the Internet would be an appropriate function of the government.

The Communications Decency Act is an amendment, which prevents the information superhighway from becoming a computer “red light district.” On June 14, 1995, by a vote of 84-16, the United States Senate passed the amendment. It is now being brought through the House of Representatives. The Internet is owned and operated by the government, which gives them the obligation to restrict the materials available through it. Though it appears to have sprung up overnight, the inspiration of free-spirited hackers, it in fact was born in Defense Department Cold War projects of the 1950s.(Laberis, 34) The United States Government owns the Internet and has the responsibility to determine who uses it and how it is used. The government must control what information is accessible from its agencies. This material is not lawfully available through the mail or over the telephone, there is no valid reason these perverts should be allowed unimpeded on the Internet. Since our initiative, the industry has commendably advanced some blocking devices, but they are not a substitute for well-reasoned law. Because the Internet has become one of the biggest sources of information in this world, legislative safeguards are imperative. The government gives citizens the privilege of using the Internet, but it has never given them the right to use it. They seem to rationalize that the framers of the constitution planned & plotted at great length to make certain that above all else, the profiteering pornographer, the pervert and the pedophile must be free to practice their pursuits in the presence of children on a taxpayer created and subsidized computer network. People like this are the ones in the wrong. Taxpayer’s dollars are being spent bringing obscene text and graphics into the homes of people all over the world. The government must take control to prevent pornographers from using the Internet however they see fit because they are breaking laws that have existed for years. (Exon, 7)

Cyberpunks, those most popularly associated with the Internet, are members of a rebellious society that are polluting these networks with information containing pornography, racism, and other forms of explicit information. When they start rooting around for a crime, new cybercops are entering a pretty unfriendly environment. Cyberspace, especially the Internet, is full of those who embrace a frontier culture that is hostile to authority and fearful that any intrusions of police or government will destroy their self-regulating world.(Diamond, 35) The self-regulating environment desired by the cyberpunks is an opportunity to do whatever they want. The Communications Decency Act is an attempt on part of the government to control their “free attitude” displayed in homepages such as “Sex, Adult Pictures, X-Rated Porn”, “Hot Sleazy Pictures (Cum again + again)” and “sex, sex, sex. heck, it’s better even better than real sex”. “What we are doing is simply making the same laws, held constitutional time and time again by the courts with regard to obscenity and indecency through the mail and telephones, applicable to the Internet.” To keep these kinds of pictures off home computers, the government must control information on the Internet, just as it controls obscenity through the mail or on the phone. Legislative regulations must be made to control information on the Internet because the displaying or distribution of obscene material is illegal. The courts have generally held that obscenity is illegal under all circumstances for all ages, while “indecency” is generally allowable to adults, but that laws protecting children from this “lesser” form are acceptable. It’s called protecting those among us who are children from the vagrancies of adults.(Horowitz, 38)

The constitution of the United States has set regulations to determine what is categorized as obscenity and what is not. In Miller vs. California, 413 U.S. at 24-25, the court announced its “Miller Test” and held, at 29, that its three part test constituted “concrete guidelines to isolate ‘hard core’ pornography from expression protected by the First Amendment. By laws previously set by the government, obscene pornography should not be accessible on the Internet. The government must police the Internet because people are breaking laws. “Right now, cyberspace is like a neighborhood without a police department.” (Messmer, 12)Currently anyone can put anything he wants on the Internet with no penalties. “The Communications Decency Act gives law enforcement new tools to prosecute those who would use a computer to make the equivalent of obscene telephone calls, to prosecute ‘electronic stalkers’ who terrorize their victims, to clamp down on electronic distributors of obscene materials, and to enhance the chances of prosecution of those who would provide pornography to children via a computer.”(Laberis, 34) The government must regulate the flow of information on the Internet because some of the commercial blocking devices used to filter this information are insufficient. “Cybercops especially worry that outlaws are now able to use powerful cryptography to send and receive uncrackable secret communications and are also aided by anonymous re-mailers.” By using features like these it is impossible to use blocking devices to stop children from accessing this information. Devices set up to detect specified strings of characters will not filter those that it cannot read. The government has to stop obscene materials from being transferred via the Internet because it violates laws dealing with interstate commerce. It is not a valid argument that “consenting adults” should be allowed to use the computer BBS and “Internet” systems to receive whatever they want. If the materials are obscene, the law can forbid the use of means and facilities of interstate commerce and common carriers to ship or disseminate the obscenity.(Taylor, 6-7)

When supplies and information are passed over state or national boundaries, they are subject to the laws governing interstate and intrastate commerce. When information is passed between two computers, it is subjected to the same standards. The government having the power to regulate the information being put on the Internet is a proper extension of its powers. With an information based system such as the Internet there is bound to be material that is not appropriate for minors to see. In passing of an amendment like the Communications Decency Act, the government would be given the power to regulate that material. (Gibbs, 37)

One of the most important advances in the rapidly developing world of electronic commerce is the ability of companies to develop personalized relationships with their customers. Personalization empowers companies to better understand their customers’ wants and desires and improve customer service by tailoring offerings to the unique needs of individuals . At the same time, this has become a subject of hot controversy because the technology involves the extensive collection and use of personal data.(Buerger, 82) Many, if not most, online shoppers and surfers are not aware of the extent of how much and what kind of info can be gathered about a person, even someone who is just visiting and not shopping or signing up for anything. (Dyson, 35)

Through the use of the “cookies” technology, a person’s movement through the Web can be tracked to provide information. Using cookies a website assigns each individual a unique identifier (but not the actual identity), so that the he may be recognized in subsequent visits to the site. On each return visit, the site can call up user-specific information, which could include the consumer’s preferences or interests, as indicated by documents the consumer accessed in prior visits or items the consumer clicked on while in the site. Websites can also collect information about consumers through hidden electronic navigational software that captures information about site visits, including web pages visited and information downloaded, the types of browser used, and the referring websites’ Internet addresses. The result is that a website about gardening that Jane Doe that could sell not only her name to mail-order companies, but also the fact that she spent a lot of time one Saturday night last month reading about how to fertilize roses. More disturbing scenarios along the same lines could be imagined. However, although concern about privacy and security has long been the biggest issue with online shoppers particularly with the sanctity of their identification-related information a majority do not mind their behavior being watched if it allows their shopping experience to be customized.(Diamond, 34-35)

According to the 1999 Personalized Marketing and Privacy on the Net: What Consumers Want survey conducted by the non-profit research firm Privacy and American Business, 61 percent of the 474 Internet users surveyed said that they would be positive toward receiving banner ads tailored to their personal interests rather than receiving random ads. This represents about 56 million adult users interested in such personalization. In addition, 68 percent of the users also said that they would provide personal information in order to receive tailored banner ads, on the condition that notice and opt-out are provided.(Exon, 6) The study seems to back the e-commerce firms who are watching online behavior to provide customized shopping experiences, and not privacy advocates who say that this practice is an invasion of privacy. It is the purpose for gathering the information, it would seem, that is the key to drawing the line between acceptable personalization and invasion of privacy. This is why it is important to many shoppers that a site have a privacy policy that explains what information is gathered and how it is being used, before they relinquish their information. However, according to the 1999 Georgetown Internet Privacy Policy Survey, 94% of the top 100 websites post privacy policies, and 66% of the overall websites post privacy policies. (messmer, 53) These figures sound reassuring but the exact definition of the privacy policies in themselves remains to be questioned.

The 1998 Federal Trade Commission report on Internet privacy, “Privacy Online: A Report to Congress” outlined five criteria by which a commercial website can be said to have a truly comprehensive privacy policy. Known as the “Fair Information Practice Principles”, they are notice/awareness, choice/consent, access/participation, integrity/security, and enforcement/redress. In other words, websites should notify consumers that they’re collecting personal information and that the consumers can choose whether to provide it. The report-the result of a three-year study of 1,400 websites targeted at consumers-also censured the e-commerce industry for not adequately protecting private information, stating that “the vast majority of online businesses have yet to adopt even the most fundamental fair information practice….” (taylor, 5)


Buerger, David. “Freedom of Speech Meets Internet Censors; Cisco Snubs IBM.” Network World. Dialog Magazine Database, 040477. 31 Oct. 1994, 82.

Diamond, Edwin and Stephen Bates. “The Ancient History of the Internet.” American Heritage. Oct. 1995, 34-45.

Dyson, Esther. “Deluge of Opinions On The Information Highway.” Computerworld. Dialog Magazine Database, 035733. 28 Feb. 1994, 35.

Exon, James J. “Defending Decency on the Internet.” Lincoln Journal. 31 July 1995, 6.

Gibbs, Mark. “Congress ‘Crazies’ Want To Carve Up Telecom.” Network World. Dialog Magazine Database, 039436. 12 Sept. 1994, 37.

Horowitz, Mark. “Finding History On The Net.” American Heritage. Oct. 1995, 38.

Laberis, Bill. “The Price of Freedom.” Computer world. Dialog Magazine Database, 036777. 25 Apr. 1999, 34.

Messmer, Ellen. “Sen. Dole Backs New Internet Antiporn Bill.” Network World. Dialog Magazine Database, 044829. 12 June 1995, 12. “Shifting Into The Fast Lane.” U.S. News & World Report. 23 Jan. 1995, 52-53.

Taylor, Bruce A. “Memorandum of Opinion In Support Of The Communications Decency Amendment.” National Law Center for Children & Families. 29 June 1999, 1-7.

Turner, Bob. The Internet Filter. N.p.: Turner Investigations, Research and Communication, 1999. “WebCrawler Search Results.” Webcrawler. With the query words magazines and sex. 13 Sept. 1999.


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