Friday, January 27, 2012

Freedom of Speech

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Filtering Our Right of Free Speech on the Internet

Section 50 of the Telecommunications Act of 16, commonly known as the Communications Decency Act, detailed what could not be transmitted via the WWW to minors under the age of 18. The Communications Decency Act made it illegal to transmit or display obscene, lewd, and indecent materials to minors. However, the language in the act was so vague that many believed that the act would impact what adults could have access to on the Web. Many viewed the act as blatant censorship and therefore unconstitutional . Several Internet groups and businesses petitioned the courts to strike down the act as unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the act all the way to the Supreme Court. In June 17, the Supreme Court ruled that the act restricted adults access to information on the Web, which in turn amounted to censorship, and was therefore unconstitutional. The government, however, plans to re-draft legislation concerning what is and is not appropriate material for the Internet. Censorship of materials on the Internet is a violation of our constitutional right to freedom of the press because the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Filtering programs created so that you can be at ease with your child surfing the net are at the same time outing sites whose content bears educational value and important issues that may enrich your child’s mind. In January 17, reporter Brock Meeks, publisher of the CyberWire Dispatch, wrote an article about a particular blocking program named CYBERsitter, and their decision to block the Peacefire web site because of a page on their site they wrote concerning the program, CYBERsitter Where Do We Not Want You To Go Today? Brian Milburn, CEO of CYBERsitter, sent Mr. Meeks a letter in response, the entire text of which read “Mr. Meeks,

You take yourself too seriously. You are but a trickle of piss in the river of life. You are a nobody, and we dont care about your opinion in the slightest.” Programs such as these have a narrowed point of view, and choose to see everything that isn’t ‘proper’ as an offense. This letter was absolute confirmation of the simple-mindedness imbedded in the people behind such filtering programs. In a section of they outline an occurrence of Internet blockage, “Community United Against Violence is a 15 year old nonprofit agency preventing hate crimes against gays and lesbians. Their site includes links to pages about domestic violence, prevention of hate crimes, and youth activism. Their web site has been blocked by X-Stop and SmartFilter, although X-Stop unblocked the site in the fall of 17.” A site that educates the public in the area of hate crimes is hardly what I would call a reasonable justification to be blocked. The site should be treated with the same respect that any other hate crime prevention site receives. How may a child gain knowledge of other people’s ways of living if they are denied access by their computer?

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Congress has gone against everything they stand for, even if that means flagrantly disregarding the rights implanted within the Constitution. The Internet Free Expression Alliance states on their website ,“Two new attempts to restrict free speech on the Internet have been introduced in the 106th Congress. Both of these bills would force schools and libraries that receive any federal funds to install filtering software on their computers. In the House, Rep. Franks (R-NJ) has introduced HR 68, the so-called Safe Schools Internet Act. This bill would require public elementary and secondary schools to install clumsy blocking software on all of their computer terminals with Internet access. It would also force public libraries to install blocking software on one or more computer terminals with Internet access. (1/8/)” Can it be possible that representatives of our founding fathers have the ability to restructure our rights as U.S. citizens? This country is run for the people, by the people. Why is it that a group of intransigent nitwits are the people responsible for the feelings and rights of the country? It should be our decision to make. And the free speech controversy doesn’t stop there. “The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Childrens Internet Protection Act (S.7) on June . The legislation would mandate that schools and libraries receiving E-Rate universal service funds purchase and use Internet filtering software to regulate access by minors. The House of Representatives added a similar provision to the juvenile justice bill on June 17. The Internet Free Expression Alliance sent a joint letter to the Senate committee urging rejection of mandatory filtering. (June 4, 1)” How might it be possible for a child to research a topic such as ‘Breast Cancer’ or Homosexual hate crimes fir their English class, if their schools blocking software recognizes it as lewd and innepropriate? The intention of the Internet is to educate and entertain, not to percolate and oppress. The government does nothing to terminate the use of these programs because all the inhabitants of the senate feel exactly the same way as the owners of these programs. Any efforts made by clubs and free speech organizations to take action on this problem are scuffled away by whoever is supposed to be running the “people’s country.”

Certain programs block sites because of keywords, not necessarily pertaining to content. This restricts sites that may be useful to education of students, or even adults. “While the Banned Books page and are blocked because the URLs exist as entries on Net Nannys blocked site list, more Web sites are blocked because they contain keywords which activate Net Nannys word filter. TIME journalists reported in an August 17 article that Net Nanny blocked the National Organization for Women Web site (which was the source of much more controversy when the same Web site was blocked by CYBERsitter).” How do the creators of these programs vindicate this detail? In the case that an individual discovered she had breast cancer, she would not have the access to information concerning this topic. Sometimes this can go a bit further. “A Friends University professor also described being denied access to information the Episcopal Churchs position on homosexuality, at an unspecified Web site.” Keyword blocking has an obvious flaw. It obstructs sites that are in no way offensive, to anyone, because of postulated content. This form of blocking should be the first and foremost aspect to be consummated.

To conclude, because of Congress and filtering programs, the Internet will just conform to narrow-minded criteria that will turn the “Internet soapbox” into a vast wasteland of opinionless nothing. Sure, it’s completely reasonable to block porno and hate sites from the innocent eyes of our children, but it seems the blocking software companies have taken this a little too far. Our Constitutional rights are being invaded unjustly, and this ought to cease immediately. Perhaps the future will bring new hope for free speech on the Internet, but then again, we never know.

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