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Censorship And The Internet

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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 an d

electronic mail (e-mail) to register, so that it may monitor their

activities.9 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 Intern et with respect to these

issues.10 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 means of communicating on

the Internet make up a large and vast system. For inspectors to monitor

every e-mail, every article in every Newsgroup, every Webpage, every IRC

channel, every Gopher site and every FTP site would be near impossible.

Besides taking an ext raordinary amount of money and time, attempts to

censor the Internet violate freedom of speech rights that are included in

democratic constitutions and international laws.11 It would be a breach of

the First Amendment. The Constitution of the United Stat es 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 redr ess of grievances"

12

Therefore it would be unconstitutional for any sort of censorship to occur

on the Internet and affiliated services. Despite the illegality,

restrictions on Internet access and content are increasing worldwide under

all forms of government. In France, a co untry where the press generally

has a large amount of freedom, the Internet has recently been in the

spotlight. A banned book on the health history of former French president

Francois Mitterrand was republished electronically on the World Wide Web

(WWW). Apparently, the electronic reproduction of Le Grand Secret by a

third party wasn't banned by a court that ruled that the printed version

of the book unlawfully violated Mitterrand's privacy. 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.13 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".14 Another person attending

that conference was Ann Breeson of the Ame rican 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 made a big

point of stre ssing the importance of free speech on the Internet."15 Many

other organizations have fought against laws and have succeeded. A prime

example of this is the fight that various groups put on against the recent

Communication Decency Act (CDA) of the U.S. Se nate. The Citizens Internet

Empowerment Coalition on 26 February 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 compr omised by the CDA. The sheer range of plaintiffs alone,

including the 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, as well as 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.16 "Words like shit, fuck, piss,

and tits. Words of which our mothers (at least some of them) would no

doubt disapprove, but which by no means should be regulated by the

government. But it's not just about dirty words. It's also about words

like AIDS, gay, a nd breasts. It's about sexual content, and politically

controversial topics like drug addiction, euthanasia, and racism."17 Just

recently in France, a high court has struck down a bill that promoted the

censorship

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