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Censorship And The Intern

The freedom of speech that was possible on theInternet could now be subjected to governmental approvals. For example,
China is attempting to restrict political expression, in the name of
security and social stability. It requires users of the Internet an d
electronic mail (e-mail) to register, so that it may monitor their
activities.9 In the United Kingdom, state secrets and personal attacks are
off limits on the Internet. Laws are strict and the government is
extremely interested in regulating the Intern et with respect to these
issues.10 Laws intended for other types of communication will not
necessarily apply in this medium. Through all the components of the
Internet it becomes easy to transfer material that particular governments
might find objectionable. However, all of these means of communicating on
the Internet make up a large and vast system. For inspectors to monitor
every e-mail, every article in every Newsgroup, every Webpage, every IRC
channel, every Gopher site and every FTP site would be near impossible.

Besides taking an ext raordinary amount of money and time, attempts to
censor the Internet violate freedom of speech rights that are included in
democratic constitutions and international laws.11 It would be a breach of
the First Amendment. The Constitution of the United Stat es of America
declares that “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; or the right of the people peaceably
to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redr ess of grievances”
Therefore it would be unconstitutional for any sort of censorship to occur
on the Internet and affiliated services. Despite the illegality,
restrictions on Internet access and content are increasing worldwide under
all forms of government. In France, a co untry where the press generally
has a large amount of freedom, the Internet has recently been in the
spotlight. A banned book on the health history of former French president
Francois Mitterrand was republished electronically on the World Wide Web
(WWW). Apparently, the electronic reproduction of Le Grand Secret by a
third party wasn’t banned by a court that ruled that the printed version
of the book unlawfully violated Mitterrand’s privacy. To enforce
censorship of the Internet, free societies find that they become more
repressive and closed societies find new ways to crush political
expression and opposition.13 Vice – President Al Gore, while at an
international conference in Brussels about
the Internet, in a keynote address said that “[Cyberspace] is about
protecting and enlarging freedom of expression for all our citizens …

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Ideas should not be checked at the border”.14 Another person attending
that conference was Ann Breeson of the Ame rican Civil Liberties Union, an
organization dedicated to preserving many things including free speech.

She is quoted as saying, “Our big victory at Brussels was that we
pressured them enough so that Al Gore in his keynote address made a big
point of stre ssing the importance of free speech on the Internet.”15 Many
other organizations have fought against laws and have succeeded. A prime
example of this is the fight that various groups put on against the recent
Communication Decency Act (CDA) of the U.S. Se nate. The Citizens Internet
Empowerment Coalition on 26 February 1996 filed a historic lawsuit in
Philadelphia against the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General
Janet Reno to make certain that the First Amendment of the U.S.A. would
not be compr omised by the CDA. The sheer range of plaintiffs alone,
including the American Booksellers Association, the Freedom to Read
Foundation, Apple, Microsoft, America Online, the Society of Professional
Journalists, the Commercial Internet eXchange Association , Wired, and
HotWired, as well as thousands of netizens (citizens of the Internet)
shows the dedication that is felt by many different people and groups to
the cause of free speech on the Internet.16 “Words like shit, fuck, piss,
and tits. Words of which our mothers (at least some of them) would no
doubt disapprove, but which by no means should be regulated by the
government. But it’s not just about dirty words. It’s also about words
like AIDS, gay, a nd breasts. It’s about sexual content, and politically
controversial topics like drug addiction, euthanasia, and racism.”17 Just
recently in France, a high court has struck down a bill that promoted the
censorship of the Internet. Other countries have attempted similar moves.

The Internet cannot be regulated in the way of other mediums simply
because it is not the same as anyt hing else that we have. It is a totally
new and unique form of communication and deserves to be given a chance to
prove itself. Laws of one country can not hold jurisdiction in another
country and holds true on the Internet because it has no borders.

Although North America (mainly the United States) has the largest
share of servers, the Internet is still a worldwide network. This means
that domestic regulations cannot oversee the rules of foreign countries.

It would be just as easy for an American te en to download (receive)
pornographic material from England, as it would be from down the street.

One of the major problems is the lack of physical boundaries, making it
difficult to determine where violations of the law should be prosecuted.

There is no one place through which all information passes through. That
was one of the key points that was stressed during the original days of
the Internet, then called ARPANET. It started out as a defense project
that would allow communication in the event of an e mergency such as
nuclear attack. Without a central authority, information would pass around
until it got where it was going.18 This was intended to be similar to the
road system. It is not necessary to take any specific route but rather
anyone goes. In th e same way the information on the Internet starts out
and eventually gets to it’s destination. The Internet is full of
anonymity. Since text is the standard form of communication on the
Internet it becomes difficult to determine the identity and/or age of a
specific person. Nothing is known for certain about a person accessing
content. There are no
signatures or photo-ids on the Internet therefore it is difficult to
certify that illegal activities (regarding minors accessing restricted
data) are taking place. Take for example a conversation on IRC. Two people
could people talking to one another, bu t all that they see is text. It
would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the gender
and/or age just from communication of this sort. Then if the
conversationalist lies about any points mentioned above it would be
extremely difficult t o know or prove otherwise. In this way governments
could not restrict access to certain sites on the basis of ages. A
thirteen-year-old boy in British Columbia could decide that he wanted to
download pornography from an adult site in the U.S. The site may
have warnings and age restrictions but they have no way of stopping him
from receiving their material if he says he is 19 years of age when
prompted. The complexity in the way information is passed around the
Internet means that if information has been posted, deleting this material
becomes almost impossible. A good example of this is the junk mail that
people refer to as spam. These include e-mails ad vertising products,
usenet articles that are open for flames. Flames are heated letters that
many times have no founding behind them. These seem to float around for
ages before dying out because they are perfect material for flamewars.

Flamewars are long,
drawn out and highly heated discussions consisting of flames, which often
time, obscenely, slander one’s reputation and personae. Mostly these are
immature arguments that are totally pointless except to those involved.

The millions of people that partici pate on the Internet everyday have
access to almost all of the data present. As well it becomes easy to copy
something that exists on the Internet with only a click of a button. The
relative ease of copying data means that the second information is posted
to the Internet it may be archived somewhere else. There are in fact many
sites on the Internet that are devoted to the archiving of information
including: (which archives an extraordinary amount of
software among others), ( which is working towards
archiving as much of the WWW as possible), and (which
is dedicated towards archiving software, publications, and many other
types of data). It becomes hard to censor material that might be
duplicated or triplic ated within a matter of minutes. An example could be
the recent hacking of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Homepage and the
hacking of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Homepage. Someone illegally
obtained access to the computer on which these homepages were stored and
modified them. It was done as a prank; however, both of these agencies
have since shut down their pages. 2600 (, a magazine devoted
to hacking, has republished the hacked DoJ and CIA homepages on their
website. The magazine ei ther copied the data straight from the hacked
sites or the hacked site was submitted to the magazine. I don’t know which
one is true but it does show the ease that data can be copied and
distributed, as well it shows the difficulty in preventing material deemed
inappropriate from appearing where it shouldn’t. The Internet is much too
complex a network for censorship to effectively occur. It is a totally new
and unique environment in which communications transpire. Existing laws
are not applicable to this medium. The lack of tangible boundaries causes
as to where violations of law take place. The Internet is made up of
nameless interaction and anonymous communication. The intricacy of the
Internet makes it near impossible to delete data that has been publicized.

No one country should be allowed to, or
could, regulate or censor the Internet.

2 Declan McCullagh, “PLAGUE OF FREEDOM” Internet Underground, (31 July 1996).

3 Declan McCullagh, “PLAGUE OF FREEDOM” Internet Underground, (31 July 1996).

4 Shari, Steele, “Taking a Byte Out of the First Amendment. How Free Is Speech in Cyberspace?” Human Rights, (Spring 1996).

5 Bryan Bradford and Mark Krumholz, “Telecommunications and Decency: Big Brother goes Digital,” Business Today, Spring 1996 : 12-16.

6 Bruce, Sterling, “Short History of the Internet,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, (17 Apr. 1996).

7 Bruce, Sterling, “Short History of the Internet,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, (17 Apr. 1996).

8 Shari, Steele, “Taking a Byte Out of the First Amendment. How Free Is Speech in Cyberspace?” Human Rights, (Spring 1996).

9 Bill Gates, “Searching for middle ground in online censorship,” Microsoft Corporation, (27 Mar. 1996).

10 Bill Gates, “Searching for middle ground in online censorship,” Microsoft Corporation, (27 Mar. 1996).

11 “Silencing the Net–The Threat to Freedom of Expression Online.” Human Rights Watch May 1996, Vol. 8, No. 2 (G).

12 Thomas Jefferson, “Bill Of Rights,” The Constitution of the United States, (21 Apr. 1996).

13 “Silencing the Net–The Threat to Freedom of Expression Online.” Human Rights Watch May 1996, Vol. 8, No. 2 (G).

14 Declan McCullagh, “PLAGUE OF FREEDOM” Internet Underground, (31 July 1996).

15 Declan McCullagh, “PLAGUE OF FREEDOM” Internet Underground, (31 July 1996).

16 Steve Silberman, “Defending the First Amendment,”,

17 Heather Irwin, “Geeks Take to the Streets,”,
18 Bruce, Sterling, “Short History of the Internet,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, (17 Apr. 1996).

Bradford, Bryan and Mark Krumholz. “Telecommunications and Decency: Big Brother goes Digital.” Business Today Spring 1996 : 12-16.

Gates, Bill. “Searching for middle ground in online censorship.” Microsoft Corporation. (27 Mar. 1996).

Irwin, Heather. “Geeks Take to the Streets.”
Jefferson, Thomas. “Bill Of Rights.” The Constitution of the United States. (21 Apr. 1996).

McCullagh, Declan. “PLAGUE OF FREEDOM” Internet Underground. (31 July 1996).

Silberman, Steve. “Defending the First Amendment.”

“Silencing the Net–The Threat to Freedom of Expression Online.” Human Rights Watch May 1996, Vol. 8, No. 2 (G).

Steele, Shari. “Taking a Byte Out of the First Amendment. How Free Is Speech in Cyberspace?” Human Rights. (Spring 1996).

Sterling, Bruce. “Short History of the Internet.” The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (17 Apr. 1996).


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