Study hard as finals approach...

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Censorship And The Internet


The freedom of speech that was possible on the Internet
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" 12
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 ... 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
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 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 confusion 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
(31 July 1996).
3 Declan McCullagh, "PLAGUE OF FREEDOM" Internet
(31 July 1996).
4 Shari, Steele, "Taking a Byte Out of the First Amendment.
How Free Is Speech in Cyberspace?" Human Rights,
e (Spring 1996).
5 Bryan Bradford and Mark Krumholz, "Telecommunications and
Decency: Big Brother goes Digital," Business Today, Spring
6 Bruce, Sterling, "Short History of the Internet," The
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,
internet (17 Apr. 1996).
7 Bruce, Sterling, "Short History of the Internet," The
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,
internet (17 Apr. 1996).
8 Shari, Steele, "Taking a Byte Out of the First Amendment.
How Free Is Speech in Cyberspace?" Human Rights,
e (Spring 1996).
9 Bill Gates, "Searching for middle ground in online
censorship," Microsoft Corporation,
nsorship.htm (27 Mar. 1996).
10 Bill Gates, "Searching for middle ground in online
censorship," Microsoft Corporation,
nsorship.htm (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.
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
(31 July 1996).
15 Declan McCullagh, "PLAGUE OF FREEDOM" Internet
(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,
internet (17 Apr. 1996).
Bradford, Bryan and Mark Krumholz. "Telecommunications and
Decency: Big Brother goes Digital." Business Today Spring
Gates, Bill. "Searching for middle ground in online
censorship." Microsoft Corporation.
nsorship.htm (27 Mar. 1996).
Irwin, Heather. "Geeks Take to the Streets."
Jefferson, Thomas. "Bill Of Rights." The Constitution of
the United States. (21 Apr.
McCullagh, Declan. "PLAGUE OF FREEDOM" Internet
(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.
e (Spring 1996).
Sterling, Bruce. "Short History of the Internet." The
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
internet (17 Apr. 1996).



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