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Internet censorship

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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, 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


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, which archives an

incredible amount of software among others, The Internet,

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

Source: Essay UK -

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