Censorship on the Internet
Five years after the first world wide web was launched at the end of 1991, The
Internet has become very popular in the United States. Although President
Clinton already signed the 1996 Telecommunication ActI on Thursday Feb 8, 1996,
the censorship issue on the net still remains unresolved. In fact, censorship in
cyberspace is unconscionable and impossible. Trying to censor the Internet its
problematic because the net is an international issue, there is no standard for
judging materials, and censorship is an abridgment of democratic spirit.
Firstly, censorship on the Internet is an international issue. The Internet was
constructed by the U.S. military since 1960s, but no one actually owns it. Thus,
the Internet is a global network, and it crosses over different cultures. It is
impossible to censor everything that seems to be offensive. For example, Vietnam
has announced new regulations that forbid “data that can affect national
security, social order, and safety or information that is not appropriate to the
culture, morality, and traditional customs of the Vietnamese people.” on June 4,
1996. It is also impossible to ban all things that are prohibited in a country.
For instant, some countries, such as Germany, have considered taking measures
against the U.S. and other companies or individuals that have created or
distributed offensive material on the Internet. If the United States government
really wanted to censor the net, there is only one solution – shut down all
network links of other countries. But of course that would mean no Internet
access for the whole country and that is disgust by the whole nation.
Secondly, everyone has their personal judgment values. The decision of some
people cannot represent the whole population of those using the net. Many people
debate that pornography on the net should be censored because there are kids
online. However, we can see there are many kids of pornographic magazines on
display at newsstands. It is because we have regulations to limit who can read
certain published materials. Likewise, some people already use special software
to regulate the age limit in cyberspace. Why do people still argue about that?
It is all about personal points of views. Justice Douglas said, “To many the
Song of Solomon is obscene. I do not think we, the judges, were ever given the
constitutional power to make definitions of obscenity.”II. In cyberspace, it is
hard to set up a pool of judges to censor what could be displayed on the net.
Thirdly, censorship works against democratic spirit, it opposes the right of
free speech and is a breach of the First Amendment. Do you remember Salman
Rushdie and his book The Satanic Verses? Iranian government announced a death
threat to kill Rushdie and his publishers because his book speaks against Islam.
No one wants that to happen again. If you are one of the Internet users, you
should have seen a blue ribbon logo. The blue ribbon symbolizes a support for
the essential human right of free speech. Let think about what happen if we lost
the right of free speech. How can we stay online? Who gives courage to the web’s
designers to put their opinion on the net? On the same day when the 1996
Telecommunication Act signed in law, a bill called House Bill 1630 was
introduced by Georgia House of Representatives member Don Parsons. It is so
repel that this law even limits the right of choosing email addressesIII.
“Freedom of speech on the Internet deserves the same protection as freedom of
the press, freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly.” said Bill GatesIV.
In addition, information in cyberspace can be changing from second to second. If
you put something on the web, everyone on the net can access it instantly. It is
totally different from all traditional media. Everything on the Internet is just
a combination of zero and oneV. It is very difficult to chase what has been
published on the information superhighway. After President Clinton signed the
1996 Telecommunication Act, lots of net users reacted in outrage. Although the
Federal court in Philadelphia and New York have overturned that Act, The
government has appealed the ruling and the case has been referred to the U.S.
Supreme Court. Since censorship is an international issue, people have different
judgment and censorship works against the democratic spirit. Censorship in the
Internet is totally unacceptable. According Justice Potter Stewart’s words,
“Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark
of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted
a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is
truly free.VI”. If we allow those few in society to censor whatever they find
offensive, we have forfeited our right of freedom and have lost our power as a
I.) On Thursday Feb 1, 1996, Congress approved legislation to dramatically
restrict the First Amendment rights of Internet users. President Clinton signed
into law Thursday Feb. 8, 1996 II.) Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 46
(1973), Justice Douglas, dissenting opinion. III.) The bill makes it illegal
for email users to have addresses that do not include their own names. IV.)
Bill Gates, Microsoft Magazine Volume 3 Issue 4 Page 54, TPD Publishing Inc.,
1996 V.) The way in which computers read data. VI.)Ginzburg v. United States,
383 U.S. 463, 498 (1966)