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Freedom Of Speech And Expression Online

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Amendment I of the United States Constitution states, "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" ("Bill"). Many Americans believe that online content should be regulated. However, internet censorship violates our rights to freedom of expression, association, speech, and press. The U.S. Constitution protects those rights, and as Americans we should make sure to hold on to them at any cost. Government regulation of the Internet would threaten its very existence. In addition, if an attempt to censor the Internet was made, the system would be so problematic and error-prone that it would most likely fail.

On February 1, 1996 the U.S. Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act. This act created criminal penalties for the "knowing" transmission over the Internet of material considered "indecent to minors." These provisions also made it a crime to make any computer network transmission with the intent to "annoy" or "harass" the recipient, and extended a criminal ban on discussing abortion devices and procedures to computer network communications ("Overview"). This was, in essence, a bill designed to censor the Internet. In response, several organizations were assembled to protest the act. Thus, the bill went to the Supreme Court. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, stated this conclusion:

As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship. ("Supreme")

The Communications Decency Act was declared unconstitutional on June 26, 1997. This decision shows that Internet censorship is a violation of our rights.

Government regulation of the Internet would drastically change the medium. Imagine if every single bit of information, every picture, and every idea that could be considered indecent for minors was erased from the Internet. How much of the Internet would still exist? The answer is not much. Someone who is easily offended could find something they consider "indecent" on just about any website. Even the Bible discusses topics that could easily be found offensive. Should we remove all e-books from the Internet that are not suitable for children? If legislation such as the Communications Decency Act were to be put into action, material that has great artistic, scientific, and political value could be banned from the Internet, even though it is perfectly legal to print it in a book. I consider that to be indecent.

How could one possibly censor something as vast and complex as the Internet? Anyone can plug a computer



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