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.(Wallace:
A statement from a document that a group of
individuals put together to ensure their own ideas and
beliefs would never change. The group of people was
the forefathers of the United States of America and that
document: The United States Constitution. That phrase
was put into the Constitution because our forefathers
wanted to protect their freedom of speech. Something
they cherished and something that in days previous was
squashed by ruling government. Today our freedom of
speech is in danger again.
The Government is now trying to censor what
ideas go onto something we know as the Information
Superhighway. The Internet is now supposed to be
regulated so that it will be "safe" for everyone to enter.
The Government passed a law known as the
Telecommunications Act of 1996. In the TA there is a
part called the Communications Decency Act or CDA.
This part of the bill arose because of the recent surge of
pornography on the Infobahn. The CDA criminalizes
indecent speech on the Internet(Wallace: 1). The CDA
describes indecent speech as anything "depicting or
describing sexual or excretory acts or organs in patently
offensive fashion under contemporary community
First take the word "indecent". This word is used
because of its vague definition. Not only does this word
ban sexually explicit materials, it also bans sexually
explicit words too. If this were applied to the real world
some of the greatest novels would be taken off the
shelf. For example there is the great lesbian novel The
Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall. In that book there
is a line t hat states "And that night, they were not
divided." Clearly that would be a sexually explicit
Now the words "depicting or describing". The word
"describing" translates into anything with pure explicit
text. That would include any book converted and placed
on the Internet with outspoken words or phrases. This
goes against the first amendment. Henry Miller's Tropic
of Cancer and James Joyce's Ulysses would not be able
to possibly be posted online(Wallace: 2).
"Sexual or excretory acts or functions": This
would relieve anything from sleazy bestsellers to 19th
century classics, such as Zola's LaTerre and Flouber's
Madam Bovary, to nonfiction books on disease, rape,
health, and sexual intercourse from our shelves. This
phrase is again unconstitutional(Wallace: 2).
Another phrase in there is "Patently Offensive".
This is very subjective. These words mean that a jury
can decide on what is offensive and what is not
(Wallace: 2). If there is a very conservative jury you get
a very conservative verdict, but in the same respect if
you get a very liberal jury you get a liberal verdict.
Would that be considered a fair trial?
And last "Contemporary community standards".
There is an easy example to understand under these
words. In 1994 two California sysops [system
operators] were found guilty of putting offensive
material on their BBS [Bulletin Board System]. Their
BBS was accessible by people all over the world as long
as whoever wanted the information called the California
number they had setup. Someone one day out of
Memphis, Tennessee called the number and found
something disturbing to themselves. The two sysops
were convicted because of the community standards in
Tennessee not the ones in California(Wallace: 3).
There is no reason to treat the electronic and
written word different especially because of the big
conversion(Wallace: 3). More and more often people
are looking to the Internet to do reports and research. It
is one of the biggest resources in the world today. If the
TA bill stays in effect many of the books listed will not
be downloadable. Mark Managan co-author of the book
Sex states, " A law burning books by Miller, Joyce,
Burroughs, and Nabokor might also protect children who
might get a hold of them, but would be completely
unconstitutional under the First Amendment (Wallace:
In 1994 a United States survey showed that
450,000 pornographic pictures and text files were
accessible on the Net around the world and that these
files were accessed more than 6 million times(Chidley:
58). This is one reason why the government passed the
CDA. The Government rationalizes the CDA because of
two reasons. One, the protection of children. Two, they
claim it is constitutional because the Internet is like a
telephone or TV and can be regulated.
The protection of children is not an issue the
Government should handle. Proponents of the CDA have
completely forgot that a credit card number is needed
to be given to an ISP [Internet Service Provider] to get
connected to the Net(Wallace: 4). Passwords may be
added security. Parents let their children "veg out" in
front of the TV all day so of course you would figure
that those same parents are going to let them surf the
net when they want to(Bruce: 3).
Donna Rice Hughes, formerly with Sen. Gary Hart
but now a born again Christian and President of Enough
is Enough!, anti-pornography on the Net organization,
states, " Any child can access it . and once they've
seen it, it can't be erased from their minds(Jerome:
First, modem communication on a phone line is
just static. A computer, modem, communications
software, and Internet access is needed. This a child
cannot purchase. Second, there are many securities on
a computer so that a child cannot access certain parts
of the home system(Lohr: 1). If the parent is responsible
enough they should know more about the PC they
purchased than their child. Third, This quote sums up
the biggest argument: " And it is not as if cybersurfers
are inundated with explicit images. Users have to go
looking for the images in the unorganized and complex
network, and even need special decoders" to translate
what is written into a file(Chidley: 58).
Jeffery Shallit associate Professor at the University
of Waterloo in Ontario and Treasurer of Electronic
Frontier Canada, an organization devoted to maintaining
free speech in Cyberspace, says, "Every new medium of
expression will be used for sex. Every new medium of
expression will come under attack, usually because
of." the previous sentence(Chidley: 58). If the
regulation passes there will just be another way of
getting around it. One example is encryption. This is a
form of false information sent to another person via the
Net and translated on the other side. As Internet pioneer
John Gilmore once said, " The Net interprets censorship
as damage and routes around it(Barlow: 76)."
I decided to try "trading" myself and was startled
when I completed two online interviews with some
known traders. The two persons "nicknames" I talked to
were GMoney and BigGuy.
First I needed to get on the chatlines. I downloaded
a program called MIRC [My Internet Relay Chat]. This
program is free. It downloaded in a matter of minutes. It
was very easy to setup and before I knew it I was on an
IRC channel. If a child new of this program it would
have been very easy for them to access the channel I
was on. The channel I was on was called !!!!SEXPIX!!!!.
The side bar noted: " All the pics you want from horses
to grandmas. " I decided this would be a good place to
start. Inside the channel there were 27 other people.
You can talk to each one individually or talk as a whole
if you like. It's like sitting in a circle in a room full of
The first of the two interviews I did was with
GMoney. I first asked how often he traded pictures. He
said usually once or twice a day. He told me he tried to
do it fast so his mother wouldn't catch him. So I
immediately asked how old he was. He replied, "13/M I
guess I shouldn't be doing this but I just think these
things are cool. Once I started I can't stop now. People
are so f_cked up it's unreal." I then asked why he
traded and he responded, " I think its just to see what
screwed up things are really going on." I also asked if
he would try anything he saw in the pictures. He wrote,
"God no you see what goes on. I would never do any of
that weird sh_t. Now some of the things I see being
done to girls. I think I'll enjoy... I don't think that's
that bad though."
The other interview with BigGuy was not much
better. BigGuy was a 25 year old female. She said that
her husband was the one who usually did it and he ran a
web page with pornography on it. When asked what she
thought of the CDA she typed," It's ridiculous how
could anyone think that censorship could stop the
trading of pornography on the Internet." I later asked if
they some how had a check to see if minors would
access their web page. She responded," No I wont let
him. We have a theory. We ask for their email address.
They must have one. We then email them and tell them
the password to get into the board. We figure that the
children won't let us email them in case their parents
find the letter. It's not fool-proof but it stops some of
The CDA hits smaller ISPs harder that the larger
ones because of the different types of users on each
system(Emigh: 1). The bill has good points and bad
ones. Steve Dasbach, Libertarian Party Chair, states
that, " This bill is censorship. This bill threatens to
interrupt and curb the rapid evolution of electronic
information systems. This bill isn't needed. This bill
usurps the role of parents("CDA: LP calls new bill `high-
tech censorship'.": 1)."
Clifford Stoll, a renown Internet scientist and
author of the 1989 bestseller The Cuckoo's Egg, when
asked "Are you concerned about the abundance of
pornography on the Net?" said:
Well, I can't get worked up over it. Some people
say, `Oh no, my kid just downloaded this image
that has explicit sex in it.' Yeah, sad to say, it's
true. Sad to say that just like every place in
society, there are reptiles who will exploit children.
Certainly, the child molester will find a way to use
the computer networks to find victims-just as
child molesters take advantage of cars and ordinary
roadways to get around. But the concerns with
cars and roadways go deeper than simply the fact
that child molesters use them(Chidley: 59).
The computer industry describes the CDA as
unconstitutionally vague and it subjects computer
networks to more restrictive standards than any form of
written work such as books, magazines, and other
printed materials(Chidley: 59). When it comes to
anything basic ethics are broken everyday whether it be
in business, on the Internet, or in your own home
(Lester: 1). There will always be someone who finds a
way around the rules. The CDA, as written, gives no
guidance but instead tries to ban Internet pornography
(Wallace: 1). As stated by Steve Dasbach, "The
Communications Decency Act is a case of 20th-century
politicians using 19th-century laws to control 21st-
century technology("CDA: LP calls new bill `high-tech
Two easy cures for this unorganized, uncensored,
uncontrollable Internet are: First, Promoting the use of
child safe Internet Service Providers and second, the
use of local screening software(Wallace: 5). The
Government should not be responsible for censorship. If
so they must do it as a whole and this would be
unconstitutional. Eliminate the problem by choice not by
BigGuy. Online Personal Interview.
washington.dc.us.undernet.org/port=6667 (20 Jun. 1996).
Bruce, Marty. "Censorship on the Internet." Censorship on the
Internet. 1996. <http://dis.strath.ac.uk/people/paul/ip.htm>
(29 Jun. 1996).
"CDA: LP calls new bill `high-tech censorship'. " Libertarian Press
July 1995. <http://dis.strath.ac.uk/people/paul/9507-
decency.html> (29 Jun. 1996).
Chidley, Joe. "Reality Check." MacLean's 22 May 1995: 59.
Chidley, Joe. "Red-Light District." MacLean's 22 May 1995: 58.
Emigh, Jacqueline. "Computers & Privacy - Telecom Act Hits ISPs
Hard 04/02/96." Computers & Privacy. 02 Apr. 1996.
_550.shtml> (18 Jun. 1996).
GMoney. Online Personal Interview.
washington.dc.us.undernet.org/port=6667 (20 Jun. 1996).
Jerome, Richard and Linda Kramer. "Monkey Business No More."
People Weekly 19 Feb. 1996: 51+.
Lester, Meera. "What's Your Code of Ethics?"
_VJF_Library_Career_Resources: What's Your Code of
<http://dis.strath.ac.uk/people/paul/conduct.html> (29 Jun.
Lohr, Steve. "Censorship on the Internet: Pre-emptory Effort At
Self-Policing," New York Times 13 March 1996, sec. C: 3.
Wallace, Jonathan and Mark Mangan. "The Internet Censorship
FAQ." The Internet Censorship FAQ. 1996.
<http://dis.strath.ac.uk/people/paul/faq.html> (29 Jun.