Censorship plays a role in everything that is portrayed on the Internet. However, due to the size and its rapid growth, it has become almost impossible to control. In respect to censorship in the Internet, we will be examining the issues of pornography, privacy, security, and the Napster debate.
In 1989, the World Wide Web was developed. This new technology enabled Internet users to exchange information on a global scale. With no restrictions on what information could be shared, the Internet has become home to an assortment of web-sites consisting of topics that are shunned from the mainstream media. For example, literature that was banned from high schools and colleges for content that contained sexually explicit, anti-religious or immoral material has been made available through web-sites such as “Banned Books On-Line”. Over the last decade, governments have struggled to regulate the content of the Internet. For example, in 1996 the Congress of the United States passed the “Communications Decency Act”, which made it a crime to transmit indecent material over the Internet. Materials such as child-pornography (which will be discussed later) were deemed offensive and thus distributors must be prosecuted. To help catch Internet content violators, organizations such as “the Internet Police” were created.
The “Internet Police”, help to regulate the Internet by; reporting illegal websites, pressuring governments to apply relevant legislation, block illegal material and report attempts by people to access child pornography. In response to the Communications Decency Act, many Internet users, industry experts and civil liberties groups were opposed to such censorship. Websites such as “The Electronic Frontier Foundation” were created to uphold the rights to digital free expression from political and legal threats. Anti-censorship followers feel the government’s actions are infringing on their freedom of speech. When taken to the Supreme Court in 1997, the court was forced to abolish the Act because it was unconstitutional.
Internet censorship can sometimes vary depending on the country. For example, in communist countries such as China, Western ideologies conveyed on the Internet are seen as harmful to the solidarity of the Chinese government. As such, all E-mails leaving and entering the country are screened and edited by government officials. Sometimes messages are even deleted if they are seen as harmful to national interests. Recently, the Chinese government has tried to develop its own “China World Web” which will hope to censor any unwanted western messages.
Today, the Internet is more like the everyday world, with all of its promises and problems, than a reflection of academia or an island village. While it’s become a tremendous tool for commerce and information, the ‘Net has also become a home to thieves, terrorists and vandals. The Internet provides concealment for malicious users.
The remote nature of the ‘Net also creates a false sense of security. Many users log on in blissful ignorance, believing they’re okay because they can’t see or feel any threats. Even after learning their workstations or Web sites have been broken into multiple times, many fail to understand the threats lurking on the other end of the wire. Routinely are systems attacked from multiple vectors, worms carried in by e-mails, bandwidth consumed by floods of bogus traffic, and workstation CPUs hijacked through some unpatched vulnerability.
Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN). Under E-SIGN, “A signature, contract or other record relating to [a] transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.” For the first time, it’s not essential that a physical (“wet”) signature be inscribed onto paper to bind a commitment. E-SIGN is one of the most empowering ingredients for future e-commerce, especially for financial institutions.
19 million vendors and more than 1 billion cardholders. (–sic)
Consumers now want to know what’s being done to secure their online transactions. Like never before, online shoppers are receptive to learning about things like smart cards, security protocols and digital wallets. This, in turn, prompts companies to develop technologies and services to meet this demand.
Visa is taking a multifaceted approach to ensuring that consumers have the same confidence in the virtual world as in the physical world. In June 2000, Visa launched a Global Secure e-Commerce Initiative that employs technology, regulations and best practices to ensure that consumers can shop securely and conveniently on the Internet. In the U.S., Visa recently rolled out the “smart Visa” card, a payment card that features an embedded microchip.. While new to the U.S. market, Visa has seen a widespread acceptance of chip products in other regions, most notably Europe and Asia Pacific.
95% Credit Card Crime Goes Unpunished- North America
The number of companies spending more than $1 million annually on computer security nearly doubled in the past year. Security budgets are up 188 percent over the last two years. Nevertheless, security breaches originating from both inside and outside corporations continues to grow as the threat of hackers and careless employees increases.
Results of this survey prove that spending millions of dollars adopting security practices doesn’t guarantee effectiveness.
“CEOs and CIOs need to focus on security solutions that fit their specific network needs. A large dollar amount alone will never guarantee network safety.”
On the heels of this year’s LOVEBUG and Life Stages viruses, the Information Security survey confirms that viruses and malware attacks are on the rise. Eight out of 10 companies were hit with a destructive virus this year.
The Internet, as well as being a vast repository of useful information, is a vast repository of smut. Porn is everywhere. Searching for the term “sex” yields millions of results. Governments are pressured by parents to clean up the Net, but due to the global nature of the Internet it’s all but impossible to block content from appearing. The solution that is most often implemented is software that “filters” the content appearing on the computer screen. Programs like Net Nanny and Cyber Sitter are designed to prevent young eyes from seeing graphic images or dangerous information. This tends to work quite well, but in some cases too well, blocking legitimate sites about sex education, or controversial sites like Planned Parenthood.
The intrusions into personal freedom don’t end after childhood. Adults who use the Internet to download Pornography are under the illusion that the Internet is a completely anonymous forum. This is far from the truth. Users on the Internet leave their IP address, essentially a digital fingerprint that identifies their computer, at every site they visit. This information can easily be used to track down all sorts of data, including a users name, address, phone number, social security number, and possibly even credit card numbers.
Who could be doing all this snooping, one might be tempted to ask? The biggest snoops, perhaps not surprisingly, are those who are mandated to protect us: the police. Recently a great deal of controvercy erupted over the admission by the FBI about the existence of a system called Carnivore, which can be used to monitor emails, downloads, web site visits, and other information about a specific user of the Internet, without that person’s knowledge or consent. Although the FBI assures us that this system will only be used in cases of criminal investigation and only with a court order, the possibility for abuse is glaringly obvious.
While the intentions of the censorship advocates may be good, the restrictions of personal freedom that they propose are unbearable. Preventing the dissemination of hate literature, child pornography, bomb making recipes is all fine and good, but there is little evidence that any of these types of information are particularly prevalent on the Internet. The measures that governments and employers propose to prevent the spread of this material would entail leaving a small group of people, probably lawyers or software programmers, to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for our viewing.
One of the main issues concerning control and the Internet is Napster. Napster is the world’s leading person-to-person file sharing community and the fastest growing community in the history of the Internet, with over 38 million passionate music fans. Napster’s software application enables users to locate and share music files through one easy-to-use interface. It creates a centralized system that allows people to log on and use the Napster search engine to connect with individual computer hard drives anywhere in the world and share music—(much of which is stolen according to Napster’s critics). A very simple search mechanism is used where you plug in the name of any artist of any song, and all of a sudden you’ll get multiple choices where you can click on and download that song easily for free. It also provides media fans a vehicle to identify new artists and a forum to communicate their interests and tastes with one another via instant messaging, chat rooms, and Hot List user bookmarks. Napster will, in the future, use their technology for other file sharing purposes. Napster’s membership is already expanding faster than such high growth Internet application companies as Hotmail or ICQ. This astonishing growth has taken place without advertising or promotion. Shawn Fanning, an eighteen year-old freshman at Northeastern University, founded napster, in 1999. Over four million individual users access the Napster service each day, as defined by unique IP addresses. It is this kind of interest in file-sharing that has inspired such industry experts as Andy Grove, the founder of Intel, to state: “The whole Internet could be re-architected by Napster-like technology.”
The remarkably rapid growth of Napster and MP3 technology scared the Recording Industry Association of America and some of its artists greatly, and resulted in numerous lawsuits filed against Napster and other similar sites. Napster was charged in court by the RIIA under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which stipulates the way that a service provider who receives notification of alleged infringement from a copyright holder must take action. The Recording industry was of the belief that Napster facilitated the illegal downloading of music, without any royalties going to the artists or record companies. In fact, recent studies have shown that 78 percent of online music users don’t regard the practice as theft, and another 61 percent say they don’t care if the music they are capturing is copyrighted. However, it is important to point out that Napster does not itself make available any MP3 materials over the Internet. Napster merely provides computer software that allows its users to choose which files to make available to each other, and which files to download.
Despite the fact that the RIAA publicly asserts that Napster hurts the music industry by giving away music for free, the RIAA’s own figures for the first half of 2000, show that CD sales were up six percent from the same period the year before, an have in fact reached an all-time high (about $5.9 billion). Napster believes that CD sales are rising in America because “Napster helps cultivate, broaden and deepen our users’ affection for music.” “We believe that file-sharing among music fans helps to create a larger community of passionate music lovers, which allows the industry to sell even more music to fans.”
The RIAA sees things a little bit differently. Hilary Rosen and the RIAA have filed multimillion- dollar lawsuits against MP3.com and Napster inc., accusing both companies of violating copyright laws by encouraging their Web site users to steal music with new digital technologies. Rosen wonders whether or not: “Companies such as Napster can try to commercialize and essentially steal music from creators?”
The debate dragged on for many months but at a recent press conference in New York City significant progress was made. The German media giant Bertelsmann’s, which through strategic alliances with AOL and TerraLycos, has direct access to over 200 million online users world-wide, announced it was breaking with music-industry cohorts and forming a “strategic alliance” with the outlaw Internet service. Bertelsmann’s will loan $50 million to Napster to help it build a system to charge Napster’s users, and give artists, songwriters, publishers and music labels a cut. Details of how much consumers will pay for Napster have not been worked out, but the expectation is that users will be charged between five and fifteen dollars per month for unlimited usage. When Napster starts charging its users, Bertelsmann’s music unit, BMG, will withdraw from the industry’s lawsuit against Napster. If the company can charge a modest fee for the unlimited right to use the service, Napster can thrive and the record industry can turn “pirates” back into paying customers.
The recording industry appears to be realizing that there are millions of Napster supporters willing to pay monthly fees for the Napster service, potentially generating tons of revenue. The Bertelsmann’s deal appears to signal that record labels see that the Napster movement is too large — and way too valuable — to kill. In fact, an October Webnoize survey found that 67.6% of Napster users surveyed would pay $15 per month to use Napster, a 9.1% increase compared to a similar survey conducted last April. Currently, 69% of college students surveyed are at least monthly users of Napster; 43.3% use Napster at least weekly.
The agreement signals a major shift in the Napster wars. The $40 billion music industry has traditionally treated online file sharing, as a time bomb that threatens to destroy CD sales. Now at least one mogul is embracing the concept and its popularity among young music lovers. Bertelsmann’s claims that that digital distribution will in fact increase music sales and that they will urge other music labels to also drop their suits and strike deals with Napster, which would allow Napster to legally offer the music of the other label’s artists for downloading. This is needed to ensure Napster’s survival since Napster needs to be able to provide more than just the songs of BMG’s artists in order to keep its customers satisfied. Even Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America and the labels’ chief warrior in the Napster fight, felt positively about the deal, saying: “This is a good thing… I strongly believe that the future of these issues is best served when people are working together and licenses are sought and agreements are made.”
Napster, and programs like Napster, have put the entire industry in a boom. Gone are the days of kids staying up all night to download one song. Today, it is all about high speed access and quick downloads. Cable companies are battling it out with the phone companies over who has the faster service. On top of that, they now fight over the issue of how many people are sharing your particular line. It has come down to the fact that if you can’t download five songs in a matter of minutes, then the server is too slow.
In all of this, the music industry has chosen to complain and try to bring down the technology rather than trying to become a part of it. Courtney Love is one artist that has realized the potential of this technology and wishes to be apart of it: “There were a billion downloads last year, but music sales are up… Downloads are creating more demand… We don’t have to work with major labels anymore because the economy is creating new ways to distribute and market music… Next time I release a record, I’ll be able to go directly to my fans and let them hear it before anyone else.” The grip that record companies has on artists is slipping. Record deals used to be the only option, but artists are realizing that there is more out there for them; options that leave the music in their own hands, rather than the hands of large companies.
A local band, Silence, has chosen to hold off on record deals to maintain control over where their music is to go. They have the knowledge and the technology to distribute their own work, which will mean a larger profit in the long run. Silence says they are tempted by record deals, but only because large companies have greater promotional capabilities.
It is beyond doubt that the Internet can be used as a tool to break the
law in various ways (utter death threats, conduct credit card fraud, break
publication bans, music rights and of course pornography etc.) In the internet age censorship is being taken to new levels. The issue of internet privacy should not be taken for granted. What is remarkable is that, in a community estimated to be as large as 25,000,000 users, there have been so few incidents of this type. Let us not use them as an excuse to over-regulate a “technology offreedom”. Let us instead work towards wise enforcement of already existing laws, and more uniform international laws.