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Improving Cyberspace


"People don't inadvertently tune into alt.sex.pedophile
while driving to a Sunday picnic with Aunt Gwendolyn"
(Huber). For some reason, many people believe this
philosophy and therefore think the Internet and other
online areas should not be subject to censorship. The truth
is, however, that computerized networks like the Internet
are in desperate need of regulations. People can say, do,
or create anything they wish, and as America has proved in
the past, this type of situation just doesn't work. Though
governments cannot physically regulate the Internet,
cyberspace needs regulations to prevent illegal activity,
the destruction of morals, and child access to pornography.
First, censoring the online community would ease the
tension on the computer software industry. Since the
creation of the first computer networks, people have been
exchanging data back and forth, but eventually people
stopped transferring text, and started sending binaries,
otherwise known as computer programs. Users like the idea;
why would someone buy two software packages when they could
buy one and trade for a copy of another with a friend? This
philosophy has cost the computer industry millions, and
companies like Microsoft have simply given up. Laws exist
against exchanging computer software; violators face up to
a $200,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment, but these
laws are simply unenforced. Most businesses are violators
as well. Software companies require that every computer
that uses one of their packages has a separate license for
that software purchased, yet companies rarely purchase
their required minimum. All these illegal copies cost
computer companies millions in profits, hurting the
company, and eventually hurting the American economy. On
the other hand, many people believe that the government
cannot censor the Internet. They argue that the Internet is
an international network and that one government should not
have the power to censor another nation's
telecommunications. For example, American censors can block
violence on American television, but they cannot touch
Japanese television. The Internet is open to all nations,
and one nation cannot appoint itself police of the
Internet. Others argue that the design of the Internet
prohibits censorship. A different site runs every page on
the Internet, and usually the location of the site is
undetectable. If censors cannot find the site, they can't
shut it down. Most critics believe that America cannot
possibly censor the Internet. Indeed, the American
government can censor the Internet. Currently, the National
Science Federation administers all internet addresses, such
as web addresses. The organization could employ censors,
who would check every American site monthly. Any site the
censors find with illegal material could immediately lose
their address, thus shutting down the site. Some might
complain about cost, but if the government raised the
annual price to hold an address from a modest $50 to say
$500, they could easily afford to pay for the censors. This
would not present a problem, because mostly businesses own
addresses; it would not effect use by normal people. For
example, microsoft.com is the address for Microsoft, but
addresses like crandall.com just do not exist. Bulletin
Board Systems (BBS's) are another computer media in need of
censorship. Like the Internet, some spots contain hard core
pornography, yet some have good content. Operators usually
orient their BBS's for the local community, but some
operators open their system to users across the world. The
government can shut down a BBS if it transfers illegal
material across a state border according to federal law. As
a postal worker in Tennessee showed, shutting down a BBS
with illegal pornography is an easy process. When he called
a BBS in California and found illegal child pornography, he
called his local police. Two days later the police had
closed the BBS and Robert Thomas was awaiting prosecuting
in a Tennessee jail (Elmer-Dewitt). If the government were
to employ censors like that postal worker, thousands of
BBS's transmitting illegal material across state borders
could be shut down immediately. Secondly, censoring
cyberspace would help establish moral standards. According
to a local survey, 83% of adults online have downloaded
pornographic material from a BBS. 47% of minors online have
downloaded pornographic material from a local BBS
(Crandall). In another world wide survey, only 22% of 571
responders thought the Internet needed regulation to
prevent minors from obtaining adult material (C|Net).
Obviously, something is wrong with America's morals. A
child cannot walk into a video store and walk out with
X-rated movies. A minor cannot walk out of a bookstore with
a copy of Playboy. Why can children sit in the privacy of
their home and look at pornographic material and we do
nothing about it? It is time America does something to
establish moral standards. Certainly, people accepted the
fact that pornography exists many years ago. In addition,
however, they set limits as to how far pornography could
go, yet cyberspace somehow snuck past these limits. Just
after the vote on the Exon bill, Senator Exon said "I knew
it was bad, but when I got out of there, it made Playboy
and Hustler look like Sunday-School stuff" (Elmer-Dewitt).
He was talking about the folder of images from the Internet
he received to show the Senate just before the vote. An
hour later, the vote had passed 84 to 16. Demand drives the
market, it focuses on images people can't find in a
magazine or video. Images of "pedophilia (nude photos of
children), hebephilia (youths) and what experts call
paraphilia -- a grab bag of 'deviant' material that
includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination,
defecation, and sex acts with a barnyard full of animals"
(Elmer-Dewitt) floods cyberspace. Some wonder how much of
this is available, a Carnegie Mellon study released last
June showed that the Internet transmitted 917,410 sexually
explicit pictures, films, or short stories over the 18
months of the study. Over 83% of all pictures posted on
USENET, the public message center of the Internet, were
pornographic (Elmer-Dewitt). What happened to our
Information Superhighway, is this what we are fighting to
put into our schools? Furthermore, illegal material other
than pornography is making its way online. When companies
such as Paramount and FOX realized they were loosing money
because they were not online, they took action. They
realized that people make money online just like they do on
television. Several people make fan pages with sound and
video clips of their favorite television programs. When
companies heard of this, they wanted to do it themselves,
and sell advertising positions on their pages like with
television. Now these companies are pushing for court
orders to shut down these fan pages due to copyright
infringement (Heyman 78). If someone censored these pages
for copyrighted material in the first place, neither the
company nor the owner of the page would waste time and
money in these legal matters. Now, the company can sue the
owner of the page for copyright infringement. All this
because some Star Trek fan wanted to share some sound clips
with other fans. Most important, online pornography is
easily accessible to minors. What are parents to do,
usually it is the child in the family who is computer
literate. If the child was accessing pornographic material
with computers, odds are the parents would never know. Even
if the parents are computer literate, children can find it,
even without looking for it. When 10 year old Anders
Urmachen of New York City hangs out with other kids in
America On Line's Treehouse chat room, he has good clean
fun. One day, however, when he received a message in e-mail
with a file and instructions on how to download it, he did.
When he opened the file, 10 clips of couples engaged in
heterosexual intercourse appeared on the screen. He called
his mother who said, "I was not aware this stuff was
online, children should not be subject to these images"
(Elmer-Dewitt). Poor Anders Urmachen didn't go looking for
pornography, it snuck up on him, and as long as America
allows it to happen, parents are going to have to accept
the chance that their children may run into that stuff. In
addition, for several years the people of Michigan have
enjoyed access to the Internet through the state funded
program called Mich-Net. The program offers the public free
access to the Internet, along with schools throughout the
state. On the other hand, the Mich-Net program has one
flaw. The program gives anonymity, allowing anyone, of any
age, to access anything on the Internet. According to the
new Communications Decency Act, which Clinton signed into
law February 8, 1996, the government could terminate the
entire Mich-Net program because a minor can access
pornography through it. This would be a huge loss to the
state of Michigan and it's schools. If we were to censor
the Internet, minors wouldn't be able to access the
material, and the program would have no problems.
Furthermore, BBS's offer minors adult material at no cost.
While some BBS's that only offer adult material to adults,
others make access very simple. Some simply say "Type YES
if you are over 18." This is simply unexplainable and
unacceptable. Others require a photo copy of a driver
license showing the user is over 18, and other operators
even require meeting their users. If all it takes to access
adult material is hitting three keys, what is stopping
children from it. Most young children do not have the
ability to decide where they should go and where they
should not. If it is available, they are going to want to
see what it is. To extend the problem further, these BBS's
are usually undetectable to a child's parents. Most BBS's
are local phone calls, and are free; the parents will never
know if the child is accessing it. For example, the
Muskegon area has about 15 BBS's running 24 hours daily. Of
these 15, about five operators devote their BBS to adult
material. Of these five, only one BBS requires that the
user meet the operator before receiving access, while three
of the boards simply ask for a photo copy of a drivers
license. But that last one has no security whatsoever, and
anyone can access anything. None of the five boards charge
for access. This is simply unacceptable, we cannot let
children access adult material in this manner. Every day
thousands of children tune into sex in cyberspace. We do
not subject our children to sex on television or other
medias, and even if we do, parents have ways to block it.
Yet we allowed computers to slip through the grips of
parents. Censoring the online community will also
strengthen the computer industry and eventually our
economy. The longer we wait, the more we hurt ourselves;
let's regulate cyberspace before it is too late. 
Works Cited
C|Net. Survey Internet: 29 July 1995.
Crandall, Jason. Survey Muskegon, Michigan: 29 Jan. 1996.
Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. "On a Screen Near You: Cyberporn."
3 July 1995: Proquest.
Heyman, Karen. "War on the Web." Net Guide Feb. 1996: 76-80.
Huber, Peter. "Electronic Smut." Forbes 31 July 1995: 110.


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