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 redress of grievances.(Wallace: 3) A statement from a document that a group of individuals put together to ensure their own ideas and beliefs would never change. The group of people was the forefathers of the United States of America and that document: The United States Constitution. That phrase was put into the Constitution because our forefathers wanted to protect their freedom of speech. Something they cherished and something that in days previous was squashed by ruling government. Today our freedom of speech is in danger again.
The Government is now trying to censor what ideas go onto something we know as the Information Superhighway. The Internet is now supposed to be regulated so that it will be "safe" for everyone to enter. The Government passed a law known as the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In the TA there is a part called the Communications Decency Act or CDA. This part of the bill arose because of the recent surge of pornography on the Infobahn. The CDA criminalizes indecent speech on the Internet(Wallace: 1).
The CDA describes indecent speech as anything "depicting or describing sexual or excretory acts or organs in patently offensive fashion under contemporary community standards." First take the word "indecent". This word is used because of its vague definition. Not only does this word ban sexually explicit materials, it also bans sexually explicit words too. If this were applied to the real world some of the greatest novels would be taken off the shelf. For example there is the great lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall. In that book there is a line t hat states "And that night, they were not divided." Clearly that would be a sexually explicit phrase(Wallace: 2).
Now the words "depicting or describing". The word "describing" translates into anything with pure explicit text. That would include any book converted and placed on the Internet with outspoken words or phrases. This goes against the first amendment. Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and James Joyce's Ulysses would not be able to possibly be posted online(Wallace: 2). "Sexual or excretory acts or functions": This would relieve anything from sleazy bestsellers to 19th century classics, such as Zola's LaTerre and Flouber's Madam Bovary, to nonfiction books on disease, rape, health, and sexual intercourse from our shelves. This phrase is again unconstitutional(Wallace: 2). Another phrase in there is "Patently Offensive". This is very subjective.
These words mean that a jury can decide on what is offensive and what is not (Wallace: 2). If there is a very conservative jury you get a very conservative verdict, but in the same respect if you get a very liberal jury you get a liberal verdict. Would that be considered a fair trial? And last "Contemporary community standards". There is an easy example to understand under these words. In 1994 two California sysops [system operators] were found guilty of putting offensive material on their BBS [Bulletin Board System].
Their BBS was accessible by people all over the world as long as whoever wanted the information called the California number they had setup. Someone one day out of Memphis, Tennessee called the number and found something disturbing to themselves. The two sysops were convicted because of the community standards in Tennessee not the ones in California(Wallace: 3). There is no reason to treat the electronic and written word different especially because of the big conversion(Wallace: 3). More and more often people are looking to the Internet to do reports and research. It is one of the biggest resources in the world today. If the TA bill stays in effect many of the books listed will not be downloadable. Mark Managan co-author of the book Sex states, " A law burning books by Miller, Joyce, Burroughs, and Nabokor might also protect children who might get a hold of them, but would be completely unconstitutional under the First Amendment (Wallace: 4)."
In 1994 a United States survey showed that 450,000 pornographic pictures and text files were accessible on the Net around the world and that these files were accessed more than 6 million times(Chidley: 58).
This is one reason why the government passed the CDA. The Government rationalizes the CDA because of two reasons. One, the protection of children. Two, they claim it is constitutional because the Internet is like a telephone or TV and can be regulated. The protection of children is not an issue the Government should handle. Proponents of the CDA have completely forgot that a credit card number is needed to be given to an ISP [Internet Service Provider] to get connected to the Net(Wallace: 4).
Passwords may be added security. Parents let their children "veg out" in front of the TV all day so of course you would figure that those same parents are going to let them surf the net when they want to(Bruce: 3).
Donna Rice Hughes, formerly with Sen. Gary Hart but now a born again Christian and President of Enough is Enough!, anti-pornography on the Net organization, states, " Any child can access it . and once they've seen it, it can't be erased from their minds(Jerome: 51)."
First, modem communication on a phone line is just static. A computer, modem, communications software, and Internet access is needed. This a child cannot purchase. Second, there are many securities on a computer so that a child cannot access certain parts of the home system(Lohr: 1).
If the parent is responsible enough they should know more about the PC they purchased than their child. Third, This quote sums up the biggest argument: " And it is not as if cybersurfers are inundated with explicit images. Users have to go looking for the images in the unorganized and complex network, and even need special decoders" to translate what is written into a file(Chidley: 58).
Jeffery Shallit associate Professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Treasurer of Electronic Frontier Canada, an organization devoted to maintaining free speech in Cyberspace, says, "Every new medium of expression will be used for sex. Every new medium of expression will come under attack, usually because of." the previous sentence(Chidley: 58).
If the regulation passes there will just be another way of getting around it. One example is encryption. This is a form of false information sent to another person via the Net and translated on the other side. As Internet pioneer John Gilmore once said, " The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it(Barlow: 76)."
I decided to try "trading" myself and was startled when I completed two online interviews with some known traders. The two persons "nicknames" I talked to were GMoney and BigGuy. First I needed to get on the chatlines. I downloaded a program called MIRC [My Internet Relay Chat]. This program is free. It downloaded in a matter of minutes. It was very easy to setup and before I knew it I was on an IRC channel. If a child new of this program it would have been very easy for them to access the channel I was on. The channel I was on was called !!!!SEXPIX!!!!. The side bar noted: " All the pics you want from horses to grandmas. " I decided this would be a good place to start. Inside the channel there were 27 other people.
You can talk to each one individually or talk as a whole if you like. It's like sitting in a circle in a room full of strangers. The first of the two interviews I did was with GMoney. I first asked how often he traded pictures. He said usually once or twice a day. He told me he tried to do it fast so his mother wouldn't catch him. So I immediately asked how old he was. He replied, "13/M I guess I shouldn't be doing this but I just think these things are cool.
Once I started I can't stop now. People are so f_cked up it's unreal." I then asked why he traded and he responded, " I think its just to see what screwed up things are really going on." I also asked if he would try anything he saw in the pictures. He wrote, "God no you see what goes on. I would never do any of that weird sh_t. Now some of the things I see being done to girls. I think I'll enjoy... I don't think that's that bad though." The other interview with BigGuy was not much better. BigGuy was a 25 year old female. She said that her husband was the one who usually did it and he ran a web page with pornography on it.
When asked what she thought of the CDA she typed," It's ridiculous how could anyone think that censorship could stop the trading of pornography on the Internet." I later asked if they some how had a check to see if minors would access their web page. She responded," No I wont let him. We have a theory. We ask for their email address. They must have one. We then email them and tell them the password to get into the board. We figure that the children won't let us email them in case their parents find the letter. It's not fool-proof but it stops some of it. " The CDA hits smaller ISPs harder that the larger ones because of the different types of users on each system(Emigh: 1).
The bill has good points and bad ones. Steve Dasbach, Libertarian Party Chair, states that, " This bill is censorship. This bill threatens to interrupt and curb the rapid evolution of electronic information systems. This bill isn't needed. This bill usurps the role of parents("CDA: LP calls new bill `high- tech censorship'.": 1).
" Clifford Stoll, a renown Internet scientist and author of the 1989 bestseller The Cuckoo's Egg, when asked "Are you concerned about the abundance of pornography on the Net?" said: Well, I can't get worked up over it. Some people say, `Oh no, my kid just downloaded this image that has explicit sex in it.' Yeah, sad to say, it's true. Sad to say that just like every place in society, there are reptiles who will exploit children. Certainly, the child molester will find a way to use the computer networks to find victims-just as child molesters take advantage of cars and ordinary roadways to get around. But the concerns with cars and roadways go deeper than simply the fact that child molesters use them(Chidley: 59).
The computer industry describes the CDA as unconstitutionally vague and it subjects computer networks to more restrictive standards than any form of written work such as books, magazines, and other printed materials(Chidley: 59).
When it comes to
anything basic ethics are broken everyday whether it be in
business, on the Internet, or in your own home (Lester: 1).
There will always be someone who finds a way around the rules. The CDA, as written, gives no guidance but instead tries to ban Internet pornography (Wallace: 1). As stated by Steve Dasbach, "The Communications Decency Act is a case of 20th-century politicians using 19th-century laws to control 21st- century technology("CDA: LP calls new bill `high-tech censorship'.": 1)."
Two easy cures for this unorganized, uncensored, uncontrollable Internet are: First, Promoting the use of child safe Internet Service Providers and second, the use of local screening software(Wallace: 5).
The Government should not be responsible for censorship. If so they must do it as a whole and this would be unconstitutional. Eliminate the problem by choice not by force.
- BigGuy. Online Personal Interview. washington.dc.us.undernet.org/port=6667 (20 Jun. 1996).
- Bruce, Marty. "Censorship on the Internet." Censorship on the Internet. 1996. (29 Jun. 1996).
- "CDA: LP calls new bill `high-tech censorship'. " Libertarian Press July 1995. (29 Jun. 1996).
- Chidley, Joe. "Reality Check." MacLean's 22 May 1995: 59.
- Chidley, Joe. "Red-Light District." MacLean's 22 May 1995: 58.
- Emigh, Jacqueline. "Computers & Privacy - Telecom Act Hits ISPs Hard 04/02/96." Computers & Privacy. 02 Apr. 1996. (18 Jun. 1996).
- GMoney. Online Personal Interview. washington.dc.us.undernet.org/port=6667 (20 Jun. 1996). Jerome, Richard and Linda Kramer. "Monkey Business No More." People Weekly 19 Feb. 1996: 51+. Lester, Meera. "What's Your Code of Ethics?" _VJF_Library_Career_Resources: What's Your Code of Ethics? 1996. (29 Jun. 1996).
- Lohr, Steve. "Censorship on the Internet: Pre-emptory Effort At Self-Policing," New York Times 13 March 1996, sec. C: 3. Wallace, Jonathan and Mark Mangan. "The Internet Censorship FAQ." The Internet Censorship FAQ. 1996. (29 Jun. 1996).