On Censoring the Internet

by Jeff Williams

How ironic that the very words that I am typing now, to be placed onto the Internet, could one day be against the law.

On February 8, 1996, the Communications Decency Act was enacted into law. In protest, many pages were turned to black or displayed blue ribbons to protest this obvious violation of free-speech and the 1st amendment.

The law criminalizes the use of any computer network to display "indecent" material, unless the content provider uses an "effective" method to restrict access to that material to anyone under the age of 18. The only problem is that the defintion of the word "indecent" is so vague, that it could apply from anything to out-right pornography, to an example of how to check one's breast for lumps.

Not to mention the fact that many Congressman obviously had no idea what the Internet even was or how it worked, apparently not realizing that it was impossible for one country to legislate content on a "World-Wide" Web. Despite any attempts to regulate "indecent" material on web pages in this country, the fact remains that access would still be available to users from another country whose users maintain web sites that posts "indecent" material.

No, the only realistic way for this government to regulate what pages its citizens have access to is to forcefully block access to those pages. Apparently countries like Iraq are finding some success with this method.

Computers and the Internet are not toys for children to play with. The Internet is simply put, the Largest Library in the World. To walk through the internet is to experience everything and everybody in the world. And just as everything in the world is not appropriate for children, neither is the unsupervised use of the Internet by children.

As far as we know, it is legal to be able to have any thought that you wish. And it is legal to write that thought down on a piece of paper. But through this act, it now becomes illegal to translate certain throughts from paper into HTML and place it on a computer network. Instead of Fahrenheit 451, maybe we should call it HTML 451 or Microsoft 451.

There are only two possible solutions to the problem of children seeing material that they are most likely too young to be exposed to. The first solution, is to use one of the many forms of filters provided in the pirvate market that will block access to certain sites. Instead of blocking the server, denying the material to all users, the filters block access to only one user only. The second solution is to simply watch your child, access the Internet with them, teach them to avoid looking or seeking out sites that are not intended for them.

The World Wide Web is an electronic mirror of society. Everything that can be thought, created or made in society, can also be placed onto a computer and linked throughout the world. Just as it is impossible to control all parts of society, it is also impossible to control all parts of the internet.

After all, with the millions of people currently on the Internet, and with the millions more that are sure to enter in the future, it all boils down to one person: you. It is you who are sitting in a chair typing commands to the computer, using your own eyes to view the material. There is nothing that you are being forces to view, nothing offensive out there that you can view without first actively seeking out that particular web page with "indecent" material.

Because certain material offends one particular person, it is not only illogical and impractical, it is unfair to deny that material to the millions of other users on the internet. Any logical person can tell you that it is much harder for a government or agency to control what millions of people are exposed to than it is for one person to simply close their eyes, hit a switch, and just walk away.

If you haven't read the following, then please do:

Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 262

Additional Links:

Censorship: quotes from On Matters of Most Grave Concern