Censorship On the Internet


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.
Works Cited
BigGuy. Online Personal Interview. 

washington.dc.us.undernet.org/port=6667 (20 Jun. 1996).
Bruce, Marty. "Censorship on the Internet." Censorship on

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:
Emigh, Jacqueline. "Computers & Privacy - Telecom Act Hits

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

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. 

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. 


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