Government Intervention On The Internet Introduction During the past decade, our society has become based solely on the ability to move large amounts of information across great distances in a very short amount of time and at very low costs. The evolution of the computer era and our growing need for ultra-fast communications has caused a global network of interconnected computers to develop, commonly referred to as the Internet or the world wide web. The Internet has influenced practically everyones life in some way whether it was done directly or indirectly. Our children are exposed to the Internet at school, and we are exposed to the Internet simply by just watching our television sets. The Internet has become the primary key to the future of communication in our society today.
Because of this, the government feels that it has the right to regulate and control the contents of information distributed through the World Wide Web, contrary to the opinions of most Internet users, myself included. Freedom of Speech Over the Internet At the present, this network is the epitome of the first amendment, freedom of speech. It is a place where people can speak their minds without being reprimanded for what they say, or how they choose to say it. The key to the success of the Internet is its protection of free speech, not only in America, but in other countries as well, where free speech is not protected by a constitution. Because there are no laws regulating Internet material, people may find some of its content offending, ranging from pornography, to hate-group forums, to countless other forms of information. With over 30 million Internet users in the U.S.
alone, some of the material is bound to be interpreted as offensive to some other Internet user. My advice to these people is to change the station if you dont like what you see. Laws and the Internet The newest waves of laws making their way through Congress threaten to stifle spontaneity of the Internet. Recently, Congress has considered passing laws that will make it a crime to send vulgar language or encryption software over the web. These crimes could result in prosecutions punishable by jail time. No matter how insignificant, any attempt at government intervention on the Internet will stifle the greatest communication innovation of this century.
The government wants to maintain control over this new form of communication, and it is trying to use the protection of children as a smoke screen to impose these laws upon us. Censorship of the Internet threatens to destroy its freelance atmosphere, while wide spread encryption could help eliminate the need for government intervention. How Do We Interpret the Internet The current body of laws existing today in America does not apply well to the Internet. Is the Internet like a broadcasting medium, where the government monitors what is broadcast? Is it like a bookstore, where servers cannot be expected to review every title? Is it like a phone company that must ignore what it carries because of privacy? The trouble is that the Internet can be all or none of these things depending on how it is used. The Internet cannot be viewed as one type of transfer medium under the current broadcast definitions. The Internet differs from the broadcasting media in that one cannot just happen upon a vulgar site without first keying in a complicated address, or following a link from another source.
The Internet is much more like going into a book store and choosing to look at adult magazines (Miller 75). Because our use of the Internet varies from person to person, its meaning may be interpreted in a number of different ways. Nudity on the Internet Jim Exon, a democratic senator from Nebraska, wants to pass a decency bill regulating sexual content on the Internet. If the bill is passed, certain commercial servers that post nude pictures, like those run by Penthouse or Playgirl, would of course be shut down immediately or risk prosecution. The same goes for any amateur web site that features nudity, sex talk, or sexually explicit words.
Posting any sexual words in a Usenet discussion group, which occurs routinely, could cause a person to be liable for a $50,000 fine and six months in jail. Why does it suddenly become illegal to post something that has been legal for years in print? Exon’s bill apparently would also criminalize private mail, .. I can call my brother on the phone and say anything–but if I say it on the Internet, it’s illegal (Levy 56). Internet Access To Other Countries Congress, in their pursuit of regulations, seems to have overlooked the fact that the majority of the adult material on the Internet is sent from overseas. Many of the new Internet technologies, including the World Wide Web, have been developed overseas. There is no clear boundary between information existing in the U.S. and information existing in other countries.
Data held in foreign computers is just as accessible as data in America. All it takes is the click of a mouse to access it. Even if our government tried to regulate the Internet, we have no control over what is posted in other countries or sent from other countries, and we have no practical way to stop it. The Internet was originally designed to uphold communications after a nuclear attack occurred by rerouting data to compensate for destroyed telephone lines and servers. Today’s Internet still works on a similar design.
The building blocks of the Internet were designed to overcome any kind of communication barriers put in its way. For example, if a major line between two servers is cut, the Internet users will find another way around this obstacle, whether the servers reside in different cities, states, or countries. This characteristic of the Internet makes it virtually impossible to separate an entire nation from indecent information in other countries (Wilson 33). Internet Regulating Gone Bad Recently, a major university attempted to implement limitations on the Internet access available to its students, with results reminiscent of a 1960s protest. The university had become concerned that it might be held responsible for allowing students access to sexually explicit material, after a research associate found quite a large collection of pornographic pictures (917,410 images to be exact) that several students had downloaded.
Frightened by a local court case that had recently declared pictures of similar content obscene, the school administration quickly removed access to all these pictures and to the newsgroups where most of this obscenity had susceptibly come from. A total of 80 newsgroups were removed, causing a large disturbance among the student body, and shortly thereafter, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation became involved, all of whom felt this was unconstitutional. After only half a week, the college had backed down, and restored the newsgroups. This is a small example of what may happen if the government tries to impose censorship (Elmer-Dewitt 102). Children and the Internet Currently, there is software being released that promises to block childrens access to known X-rated Internet newsgroups and sites. However, most adults rely on their computer literate children to install and set these programs up, which inevitable defeats the purpose behind childproofing software.
Even if this software is installed by an adult, whos to say that the child cant go to a friends house and surf the web without any restrictions or supervision? Children will find ways to get around these restrictions. Regardless of what types of software or safeguards are used to protect these children, there will always be ways around them. This necessitates the education of the children to deal with reality. Altered views of an electronic world translate easily into altered views of the real world. When it comes to our children, censorship is a far less important issue than good parenting. We must teach our kids that the Internet is an extension and a reflection of the real world.
We have to show them how to enjoy the good things and avoid the bad things. This isn’t the government’s responsibility. It’s ours as parents. (Miller 76) Self Regulation of the Internet Some restrictions on electronic speech imposed by major online companies are not so bad. Most of these communication companies have restrictions on what their users can say in public forum areas (Messmer).
They must, however, respect their customer’s privacy. Private e-mail content is off limits to them, but they may act swiftly upon anyone who spouts obscenities in a public forum. Self-regulation by users and servers is the key to avoiding government imposed intervention. Many on-line sites such as Playgirl and Penthouse have started to regulate themselves. Both of these sites post clear warnings that adult content lies ahead and lists the countries where this is illegal. The film and video game industries subject themselves to ratings, and similarly, if Internet users want to avoid government imposed regulations, maybe it is time they began to regulate themselves.
Encryption Government attempts to regulate the Internet are not just limited to obscenity and vulgar language. These attempts also fall into other areas, such as data encryption. By nature, the Internet is an insecure method of transferring data. A single e-mail packet may pass through hundreds of computers from its source to its final destination. At each computer, there is the chance that the data will be archived and someone may intercept that data. Encryptio …