Internet Censorship

Internet Censorship
For centuries governments have tried to regular materials deemed
inappropriate or offensive. The history of western censorship was said to have
begun when Socrates was accused “firstly, of denying the gods recognized by the
State and introducing new divinities, and secondly of corrupting the young.” He
was sentenced to death for these crimes. Many modern governments are attempting
to control access to the Internet. They are passing regulations that restrict
the freedom people once took for granted.


The Internet is a world wide network that should not be regulated or
censored by any on country. It is a complex and limitless network which allows
boundless possibilities and would be effected negatively by the regulations and
censorship that some countries are intent on establishing. Laws that are meant
for other types of communication will not necessarily apply in this medium.

There are no physical locations where communications take place, making it
difficult to determine where violations of the law should be prosecuted. There
is anonymity on the Internet and so ages and identities are not known this makes
it hard to determine if illegal activities are taking place in regards to people
under the legal age. As well, it is difficult to completely delete speech once
it has been posted, Meaning that distributing materials that are obscene are
banned becomes easy
The American Library Association (ALA) has a definition that states
censorship is the change in the access status of material, made by a governing
authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction,
remove, or age/grade level changes. This definition, however, has a flaw in
that it only recognizes one form of censorship-governmental censorship.


Cyberspace, a common name for the Net, has been defined by one author as
being “made up of millions of people who communicate with one another through
computers. It is also “information stored on millions of computers worldwide,
accessible to others through telephone lines and other communication channels
“that” make up what is known as cyberspace.” The same author went on to say “
term itself is elusive, since it is not so much a physical entity as a
description of an intangible.”
The complexity of the Internet is demonstrated through its many
components. The most readily identifiable part is the World Wide Web (WWW).

This consists of web pages that can be accessed through the use of a web browser.

Web pages are created using a basic programming language. Another easily
identified section of the Internet is e-mail. Once again it is a relatively
user-friendly communication device. Some other less publicized sections of the
Internet include: Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which allows real time chatting to
occur among thousands of people, Gopher, which works similarly to the WWW but
for a more academic purpose, and File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Which allows the
transfer of files from one computer to another. Another service that is not
Internet but is carried along with it in many instances is Usenet or News. In
Usenet there are many newsgroups which center their conversations on varied
topics. For example, rec.music.beatles would focus the discussion on the
Beetles. This would be done through posts or articles, almost like letters sent
into a large pot where everyone can read and reply. Many controversial
newsgroups exist and they are created easily. It is possible to transfer
obscene and pornographic material through these newsgroups. There is no
accurate way to determine how many people are connected to the Internet because
the number grows so rapidly everyday. Figures become obsolete before they can
be published. “The Internet started as a military strategy and, over thirty
years later, has evolved into the massive networking of over 3 million computers
worldwide. One of the most prominent features of the young Internet was it had
freedom. It is a rate example of a true, modern, functional anarchy…there
are no official censors, no bosses, no board of directors, no stockholders”. It
is an open forum where the only thing holding anyone back is a conscience. The
Internet has “no central authority” and therefore it makes it difficult to be
censored. As a result of these and more, the Internet offers potential for a
true democracy.


The freedom of speech that was possible on the Internet could now be
subjected to governmental approvals. For example, China is attempting to
restrict political expression, in the name of security and social stability. It
requires users of the Internet and e-mail to register, so that it may monitor
their activities. In the United Kingdom, state secrets and personal attacks are
off limits on the Internet. Laws are strict and the government is extremely
interested in regulating the Internet especially these issues. Laws intended
for other types of communication will not necessarily apply in this medium.

Through all the components of the Internet it becomes easy to transfer material
that particular governments might find objectionable. However, all of these
ways of communicating on the Internet make up a large and vast system. For
inspectors to monitor every E-mail, Webpage, IRC channel, Gopher site,
Newsgroups, and FTP site would be near impossible. This attempt to censor the
Internet would violate the freedom of speech rights that are included in
democratic constitutions and international laws. It would be a violation of the
First Amendment. The Constitution of the United States of America declares that
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”
Therefore it would be unconstitutional for any sort of censorship to occur on
the Internet and affiliated services. Despite the of being illegal restrictions
on Internet access and content are increasing world-wide under all forms of
government. In France, a country where the press generally have a large amount
of freedom, the Internet has recently been in the spotlight.


“To enforce censorship of the Internet, free societies find that they
become more repressive and closed societies find new ways to crush political
expression and opposition Vice-President Al Gore, while at an international
conference in Brussels about the Internet, in a keynote address said that
“Cyberspace is about protecting and enlarging freedom of expression for all
our citizens…Ideas should not be checked at the border Another person
attending that conference was Ann Breeson of the American Civil Liberties Union,
an organization dedicated to preserving many things including free speech. She
is quoted as saying “Our big victory at Brussels was that we pressured them
enough so that Al Gore in his keynote address make a big point of stressing the
importance of free speech on the Internet.” Many other organizations have
fought against laws and have succeeded. A good example of this is the fight
that various groups put on against the recent Communication Decency Act (CDA) of
the U.S. Senate. The Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition on February
26,1996 filed a historic lawsuit in Philadelphia against the U.S. Department of
Justice and Attorney General Janet Reno to make certain that the First Amendment
of the U.S.A. would not be compromised by the CDA. The plaintiffs alone,
including American Booksellers Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation,
Apple, Microsoft, America Online, the Society of Professional Journalists, the
Commercial Internet eXchange Association, Wired, and HotWired, along with
thousands of netizens (citizens of the Internet) shows the dedication that is
felt by many different people and groups to the cause of free speech on the
Internet.


Just recently in France, a high court has struck down a bill that
promoted the censorship of the Internet. Other countries have attempted similar
moves. The Internet cannot be regulated in the way of other mediums simply
because it is not the same as anything else that we have. It is a totally new
and unique form of communication and deserves to be given a chance to prove
itself. Laws of one country and this is applicable to the Internet because
there are no borders.


Although North American (mainly the U.S.A.) has the largest share of
servers, the Internet is still a world-wide network. This means that domestic
regulations can not oversee the rules of foreign countries. It would be just as
easy for an American teen to download (receive) pornographic material form
England, as it would be from down the street. One of the major problems is the
lack of physical boundaries, making it difficult to determine where violations
of the law should be prosecuted. There is no one place through which all
information passes. That was one of the key points that was stressed during the
original days of the Internet, then called ARPANET. It started out as a defense
project that would allow communication in the event of an emergency such as
nuclear attack. Without a central authority, information would pass around
until it got where it was going. Something like a road system. It is not
necessary to take any specific route, but rather anyone goes. In the same way
the information on the Internet starts out and eventually gets to it’s
destination.


The Internet is full of anonymity. Since text is the standard form of
communication on the Internet it becomes difficult to determine the identity
and/or age of a specific person. Nothing is known for certain about a person
accessing content. There are no signatures or photo-ids on the Internet
therefore it is difficult to certify that illegal activities (regarding minors
accessing restricted data) are taking place. Take for example a conversation on
IRC. Two people could be talking to one another, but all that they see is text.

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know for certain the
gender and/or age just from communication like this. Then if the
conversationalist lies about any points mentioned above it would be extremely
difficult to know or prove otherwise. In this way governments could not
restrict access to certain sites on the basis of ages. A thirteen year old boy
in British Columbia could decide that he wanted to download pornography from an
adult site in the U.S. The sire may have warnings and age restrictions but they
have no way of stopping him from receiving their material if he says he is 19
years old when prompted. The complexity in the way information is passed around
the Internet means that if information has been posted, deleting this material
becomes almost impossible. The millions of people that participate on the
Internet everyday have access to almost all of the data present. As well it
becomes easy to copy something that exists no the Internet with only a click of
a button. The relative ease of copying data means the second information is
posted to the Internet it may be archived somewhere else. There are in fact
many sites on the Internet that are devoted to the archiving of information
including: Walnut Creek’s cdrom.com, which archives an incredible amount of
software among others, The Internet Archive-www.archive.org, which is working
towards archiving as much of the WWW as possible, and The Washington University
Data Archive, Which is dedicated towards archiving software, publications, and
many other types of data. It becomes hard to censor material that might be
duplicated or triplicated within a matter of minutes.


The Internet is much too complex of a network for censorship to
effectively occur. It is a totally new and unique environment in which
communications take place. Existing laws are not applicable to this medium.

The lack of touchable boundaries cause confusion as to where violations of law
take place. The Internet is made up of nameless interaction and anonymous
communication. The complexity of the Internet makes it near impossible to
delete data that has been publicized. No one country should be allowed to, or
could, regulate or Censor the Internet
Technology

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