The Internet is a method of communication and a source of information that is becoming more popular among those who are interested in, and have the time to surf the information superhighway. The problem with much information being accessible to this many people is that some of it is deemed inappropriate for minors. The government wants censorship, but a segment of the population does not. The Internet should not be considered a bad source for people, considering all the uses and information it distributes.
During the past decade, our society has become based solely on the ability to move large amounts of information across large distances quickly. Computerization has influenced everyone’s life. The natural evolution of computers and this need for ultra-fast communications has caused a global network of interconnected computers to develop. This global net allows a person to send E-mail across the world in mere fractions of a second, and enables even the common person to access information worldwide. With the advances with software that allows users with a sound card to use the Internet as a carrier for long distance voice calls and video conferencing, this network is the key to the future development of technologies. At present this net is the image of the First Amendment: freedom of speech. It is a place where people can speak their mind without being reprimanded for what they say, or how they choose to say it.
Recently, Congress has been considering passing laws that will make it a crime punishable by jail to send “vulgar” language over the net. The government wants to maintain control over this new form of communication, and they are trying to use the protection of children as a smoke screen to pass laws that will allow them to regulate and censor the Internet, while banning techniques that could eliminate the need for regulation. Censorship of the Internet threatens to destroy its freelance atmosphere, while methods such as encryption could help prevent the need for government intervention (Levy 56).
The current body of laws existing today in America does not apply well to the Internet. Is the Internet like a bookstore, where servers cannot be expected to review every title? Well, according to an article written by Michael Miller in PC Magazine, “The Internet is much more like going into a book store and choosing to look at adult magazines” (Miller 75). The Internet differs from other forms of media. In that one cannot just happen upon a vulgar site without first, either entering a complicated address following a link from another source, or by clicking on the agreement statement at the beginning of the site acknowledging that one is of the legal age of 18.
This lawless atmosphere bothered many people. One such person is Nebraska Senator James Exon (D), who is one of the founding fathers of the Telecommunications Decency Act of 1996 which regulates ” any obscene or indecent material via the Internet to anyone under 18 years of age.” Exon’s bill would also according to an article written by Steven Levy in an April 1995 issue of Newsweek magazine “criminalize private mail,” Levy also stated emotional “I can call my brother on the phone and say anything-but if I say it on the Internet, it’s illegal” (Levy 55).
One thing that Congress seems to have overlooked in its pursuit of regulations is that there are no clear boundaries from information being accessed over the Internet from over countries. All it takes is a click of a mouse to access, even if our government tried to regulate information accessed from other countries, we would have no control over what is posted in those countries, and we would have no practical way to stop it. Today’s Internet works much like that of our own human brains. In that if one barrier or option is taken, your brain tries to find an alternate route or option. Today’s Internet works on a similar design, if a major line between two servers say in two countries, is cut, then the Internet users will find another way around this obstacle. This process of obstacle avoidance makes it virtually impossible to separate an entire nation from indecent information in other countries. If it were physically possible to isolate America’s computers from the rest of the world, in my opinion it would be devastating to our economy.
In an article published in Time magazine, written by Philip Emler-Dewitt
Martin Rim put together quite a large picture collection (917,410 images) and he also tracked how often each image had been downloaded (a total of 6.4 million). A local court had recently declared pictures of similar content obscene, and the school felt they might be held responsible for the content on its network. The school administration quickly removed access to all these pictures, and to the newsgroups where this obscenity is suspected to come from. A total of 80 newsgroups were removed, causing a large disturbance among the student body, the American civil Liberties Union, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, all of whom felt this was unconstitutional. After only half a week, the college had backed down, and restored the newsgroups (Emler- Dewitt 102).
This is only a tiny example of what may happen if the government tries to impose censorship. Regardless of what types of software or safeguards are used to protect the children of the information age, there will always be ways around them. As stated by Michael Miller
When it comes to our children, censorship is a far less important issue than good parenting. We must teach our kids that the Internet is an extension and reflection of the real world, and we have to show them how to enjoy the good things and avoid the bad things. This is not the government’s responsibility. It’s ours (Miller 76).
An example of the government trying to get around something is the whole issue with Napster. “Shawn Fanning an 18-year-old college dropout wrote the code that changed the world. His fate, and ours, is now in the court’s hands. It is now in the government’s hands to decide whether worldwide file sharing shall stay legalized” “Napster is not harming the industry, certainly not so much that it has to be shut down before trial” (Greenfeld 64). Many people feel this way about the program. Many artists even feel this way about the file-sharing program. Actress/grunge rocker Courtney Love says,” Why aren’t record companies embracing this great opportunity? Why aren’t they trying to talk to kids… to learn what they like?” (Greenfeld 66). Her and many other non-greedy musicians feel this way about the program. It is shown that Napster has not made a difference in CD sales. “Although Napster might seem to be taking sales away from the record companies, CD sales have actually increased in the Napster era – by $500 million this year alone (Greenfeld 66). This shows that Napster is actually a promoter for CD sales. This is probably because the people sample the music and then go and buy it.
Until the development of the Internet, the U.S. government controlled most of the new communication techniques. With the development of faster personal computers and the addition of the worldwide web, they had no control over the vast range of this style of communication. To stop the spread of data the U.S. government has imposed strict laws on the exportation. This is explained in an article by Phil Zimmerman “To send a encoded message to someone, a copy of that person’s ‘public’ key is needed. The sender uses this public key to encrypt the data, and the recipient uses their ‘private’ key to decode the message” (Zimmerman 3). As with any new technology, this program has allegedly been used for illegal purposes, and the FBI and NSA are believed to be unable to crack this code (Zimmerman 4). Zimmerman’s reply to his knowledge of this rumor was quoted in Steven Levy’s article in Newsweek “If I had invented an automobile, and was told that criminals used it to rob banks, I would feel bad, too. But most people agree that the benefits to society that come from automobiles taking the kids to school, grocery shopping and such outweigh their drawbacks” (Levy 56).
As the Internet continues to grow throughout the world, more governments may try to impose their views onto the rest of the world through regulations and censorship. It will be a sad day when the world must adjust its views to conform to that of the most prudish regulatory government. If too many regulations are incited, then the Internet as a tool will become nearly useless, and the Internet as a mass communication device and a place for freedom of mind and thoughts, will become non-existent. The government should rethink its approach to the censorship and the encryption issues, allowing the Internet to continue to grow and mature. The users, parents, and servers of the world need to regulate themselves, so, as not to push the government into forcing these types of regulations on what might be the best communication instrument in history
Emler-Dewitt, Philip. “Censoring Cyberspace: Carnegie Mellon’s Attempt to Ban Sex from its Campus Computer Network Sends A Chill Along the Info Highway.” Time Nov. 21, 1994: 102-105.
Greenfeld, Karl Taro. “Meet the Napster.” Time Oct. 2, 2000: 60-73.
Levy, Steven. “The Encryption Wars: is Privacy Good or Bad?” Newsweek Apr. 1995: 55-57.
Miller, Michael. “Cybersex Shock.” PC Magazine Oct. 10, 1995: 75-76.
Telecommunications Decency Act of 1996, Section 502, 47 U.S.C Section 223.
Zimmerman, Phil. (1995). Pretty Good Privacy v2.62. Available Ftp: net-dist.mit.edu Directory: pub/pgp/dist File: 262dc.zip.