The Internet is a wonderful place of entertainment and education but like all places used by millions of people, it has some murky corners people would prefer children not to explore. In the physical world society as a whole conspires to protect children, but there are no social or physical constraints to Internet surfing. The Internet Censorship Bill of 1995, also known as the Exon/Coats Communications Decency Act, has been introduced in the U. S. Congress.
It would make it a criminal offense to make available to children anything that is indecent, or to send anything indecent with “intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, r harass” (“Stop the Communications … ” n. p. ). The goal of this bill as written (though not as stated by its proponents) is to try to make all public discourse on the Internet suitable for young children. The issue of whether is it necessary to have censorship on the Internet is being argued all over the world. There are numerous homepages on the World Wide Web discussing this issue, or asking people to sign the petition to stop government censorship.
The Internet was originally a place for people to freely express their ideas worldwide. It is also one of America’s most valuable types of technology; cientists use email for quick and easy communication. They post their current scientific discoveries on the Usenet newsgroups so other scientists in the same field of study all over the world can know in minutes. Ordinary people use the Net for communication, expressing their opinions in the newsgroups, obtaining up-to-date information from the WWW, acquiring files by using FTP, etc.
Censorship would damage the atmosphere of the freedom to express ideas on the Internet; therefore, government should not encourage censorship. In the Internet community, there is a large volume of technical terms. For this eason, it is first necessary to examine the terminology specific to Internet. The Internet is a world wide computer network. The “Net” is frequently used in place of Internet. In the words of Allison and Baxter, two experts on Internet Censorship at the Monash University, “the Internet is comprised of various digital media subsuming many of the distinct roles of traditional media” (Allison and Baxter 3).
Electronic mail (email), which is one component of the Internet, approximates person to person letters, memoranda, notes and even phone calls. Sound and pictures are sometimes sent along with text. Email is mainly for private ommunication. Electronic mailing lists are rather like club newsletters and readers have to contract-in or subscribe to a list. Another term that is often used is electronic news (enews/Usenet), enews is a broadcast, free to the Internet medium. It has some properties of radio or television, particularly talk-back radio or television, in that the destination is indiscriminate. The term FTP is also frequently used.
File transfer protocol (FTP) started as an Internet archival and retrieval medium, somewhat analogous to traditional libraries. Files can be retrieved from distant computers using a traditional ext-based interface. The world-wide web (WWW), which is another component of the Net, can be used to “publish” material that would traditionally appear in journals, magazines, posters, books, television and even on film. The term UNIX, “a widely heard computer term, is a multi-user, multitasking operating system originally developed by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, at AT&T Bell Laboratories, in 1969 for use on minicomputers” (“UNIX” n. . ).
To understand the background of the controversy, it is also necessary to give a brief history on the Internet. The Internet was created about twenty years ago n an attempt to connect a U. S. Defense Department network called the ARPAnet and various other radio and satellite networks. The ARPAnet was an experimental network designed to support military research; in particular, research about how to build networks that could withstand partial outages (such as bomb attacks) and still function.
At about the same time the Internet was coming into being, Ethernet local area networks (“LANs”) were developed. Most of these workstations came with Berkeley UNIX, which included IP (Internet Protocol) networking software. This created a new demand: rather than connecting to a ingle large timesharing computer per site, organizations wanted to connect the ARPAnet to their entire local network. The demand keeps growing today. Now that most four-year colleges are connected to the Net, people are trying to get secondary and primary schools connected.
People who have graduated from college where they have used the resources of the Net in classes, know what the Internet is good for, and talk their employers into connecting different corporations. All this activity points to continued growth, networking problems to solve, evolving technologies, and job security for networkers (Willmott 107). The Internet can also be compared to a church. In many ways the Internet is like a church: it has its council of elders, every member has an opinion about how things should work, and they can either take part or not.
It’s the choice of the user. The Internet has no president, chief operating officer, or Pope. The constituent networks may have presidents and CEO’s, but that’s a different issue; there is no single authority figure for the Internet as a whole. As stated by Frances Hentoff, the staff writer for The Village Voice and the author of First Freedoms, “on an info superhighway driven by individuals, there re no cops preventing users from downloading” (Hentoff 1). Internet users can broadcast or express anything they want.
The fact that the Net has no single authority figure sets forth a problem about what kind of materials could be available on the Net. The U. S. government is now trying to pass bills to prevent misuse of the Net. The Internet Censorship Bill of 1995, which has already been discuss earlier, was introduced to the U. S. Congress. Under the Censorship Bill, a person breaks the law if he/she puts a purity test on a web page without making sure children cannot access the page. Also, if a person verbally assaults someone on IRC, he/she breaks the law.
If a university, where some students may be under 18 years old, carries the alt. sex. * newsgroups, which contains adult material, it breaks the law. According to George Melloan from the Wall Street Journal, a censorship bill was passed by the Senate 84-16 in July, and an anticensorship bill was passed by the House 420-4 in August. There are now four different sets of censorship and anticensorship language in the House and Senate versions of the Telecomm reform bill, which contradict each other and will have to be reconciled (Melloan, n. p. ).
In order to understand the need for the ever-growing body of legislation, it is important to explore the controversy, and the current problems involved with the Net as it exists must be introduced. The problem that concerns most people is offensive material such as pornography. As pointed out by Allison and Baxter, “Possible (offensive) topics are behavior (drugs, … ), nudity, political/economic/social opinion, violence, racial/ethnic, religious, coarse language, sexual/gender orientation, [and] sexuality” (Allison and Baxter 3). Since the Internet is open to everyone, children are very easily exposed to such material. According to
Allison and Baxter, “the information provided on the Internet, particularly through the WWW, ranges across train time-tables, university lecture notes, books, art exhibits, film promotions, the wisdom and ravings of individuals and, yes, pornographic pictures” (Allison and Baxter 3). Moreover, many high schools in the United States provide Internet access to students, which is very useful for looking up information, but if a student intends to look for inappropriate material, he/she is very likely to find such material simply by doing an Internet search. Another crucial Internet crime is the theft of credit card numbers.
Companies do business on the Net, and credit card numbers are stored on their servers; everyone with the necessary computer knowledge could hack in and obtain such databases for illegal purposes. To cite an instance, the most infamous computer terrorist, Kevin Mitnick, “waived extradition and is now in jail in California, charged with computer fraud and illegal use of a telephone access device. The list of allegations against him include theft of many files and documents, including twenty-thousand credit card numbers from Netcom On-Line Services, which provides thousands with access to the Internet” (Warren 52).
Americans ave to come up with a solution in order to keep children away from inappropriate material and to prevent misuses of the Net. One reaction to this inapplicability has been the “Censor the Net” approach (the censorship bill), which is being debated worldwide. First, the meaning of “Censoring the Net” must be explained. Simply, it is the banning of offensive material. To see if the government should censor the Net, it is imperative to list the advantages and disadvantages of the “censor the Net” approach.
The advantage of government censorship is that ideally, children and teenagers could be kept away from unsuitable material. However, many experts have pointed out that government censorship is not possible. Howard Rheingold, the editor of the Whole World Review, observes that, “the censor the Net’ approach is not just morally misguided. It’s becoming technically and politically impossible” (Rheingold n. p. ). First, it is not fair to exclude the freedom and damage the atmosphere of freely expressing ideas just for the safety of children.
Corn-Revere, an expert on Internet censorship at the Howgan & Harson Law Firm, points out that “the purpose of indecency regulation is to keep adult material from falling into the hands of kids. When he first ntroduced a similar bill last year, Senator Exon said he was concerned that the Information Superhighway was in danger of becoming an electronic red light district’ and that he wanted to bar his granddaughter’s access to unsuitable information” (Corn-Revere 24). It is clear that Senator Exon introduced the bill to prevent minors from viewing unsuitable material on the Net.
In addition, Meleedy, a computer science graduate student at Harvard University, questions that if “the Internet makes democracy this accessible to the average citizen, is it any wonder Congress wants to censor it? ” (Meleedy 1) Allison and Baxter assert hat, “the most significant new properties of the Internet media are the diversity of information sources and their ability to reach almost anywhere in the world. Authors range from major corporations such as IBM and Disney to school children” (Allison and Baxter 3).
As predicted by Corn-Revere, “At the very least, the law will force content providers to make access more difficult, which will affect all users, not just the young” (Corn-Revere 70). Censoring the Net is technically and politically impossible; it will damage the atmosphere of freedom and free idea expression on the Net; therefore, government should not encourage censorship. Most Internet users are enjoying their freedom of speech on the Net, which is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment of the United States.
According to Corn-Reverse, “it has been suggested that, on-line systems give people far more genuinely free speech and free press than ever before in human history'” (Corn-Reverse 71). Rheingold predicts that “Heavy-handed attempts to impose restrictions on the unruly but incredibly creative anarchy of the Net could kill the spirit of cooperative knowledge-sharing that makes the Net valuable to millions” (Rheingold n. p. ). The freedom of idea expression is what makes the Internet important and enjoyable, and it should not be waived for any reason.
Additionally, only a very small portion of the Net contains offensive material, most people do not use the Net for pornography. Caragata from Maclean’s magazine observes that, “it is pornography that stirs the most controversy. But while there is no doubt that pornography is popular, it amounts to a trickle compared with everything else available on the Net” (Caragata 51). The Net is mostly being used for communication and information exchange, and only a tiny portion of the Net contains pornography and other offensive material.