Censorship and the Internet

by Josh Klein

For centuries governments have tried to regulate materials deemed inappropriate or offensive. The history of western censorship was said to have begun when Socrates was accused "firstly, of denying the gods recognized by the State and introducing new divinities, and secondly of corrupting the young."(fileroom.aaup.uic.edu) He was sentenced to death for these crimes. Many modern governments are attempting to control access to the Internet. They are passing regulations that restrict the freedom people once took for granted.

The Internet is a world wide network that should not be regulated or censored by any one country. It is a complex and limitless network which allows boundless possibilities and would be effected negatively by the regulations and censorship that some countries are intent on establishing. Laws that are meant for other types of communication will not necessarily apply in this medium. There are no physical locations where communications take place, making it difficult to determine where violations of the law should be prosecuted. There is anonymity on the Internet and so ages and identities are not known. This makes it hard to determine if illegal activities are taking place in regards to people under the legal age. As well, it is difficult to completely delete speech once it has been posted, meaning that distributing materials that are obscene or banned becomes easy.

The American Library Association (ALA) has a definition that states censorship is "the change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes."(www.eff.org - ALA) This definition, however, has a flaw in that it only recognizes one form of censorship - governmental censorship. (www.eff.org - ALA)

Cyberspace, a common name for the Net, has been defined by one author as being "made up of millions of people who communicate with one another through computers." It is not just people that make up cyberspace. It is also "information stored on millions of computers worldwide, accessible to others through telephone lines and other communication channels" that "make up what is known as cyberspace." The same author went on to say "The term itself is elusive, since it is not so much a physical entity as a description of an intangible."(Steele)

The complexity of the Internet is demonstrated through its many components. The most readily identifiable part is the World Wide Web (WWW). This consists of web pages that can be accessed through the use of a web browser. Web pages are created using a basic programming language. Another easily identified section of the Internet is e-mail. Once again it is a relatively user-friendly communication device. Some other less publicized sections of the Internet include : Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which allows real time chatting to occur among thousands of people, Gopher, which works similarly to the WWW but for a more academic purpose, and File Transfer Protocol (FTP), which allows the transfer of files from one computer to another. Another service that is not Internet but is carried along with it in many instances is Usenet or News. In Usenet there are many newsgroups which center their conversations on many varied topics. For example, rec.music.beatles would focus the discussion on the Beatles. This would be done through posts or articles, almost like letters sent into a large pot where everyone can read and reply. Many controversial newsgroups exist and they are created easily. It is possible to transfer obscene and pornographic material through these newsgroups.

There is no accurate way to determine how many people are connected to the Internet because the number grows exponentially everyday. Figures become obsolete before they can be published. "[The Internet] started as a military strategy and, over thirty years later, has evolved into the massive networking of over 3 million computers worldwide". (Krumholz) One of the most prominent features of the young Internet was its freedom. It is "a rare example of a true, modern, functional anarchy...there are no official censors, no bosses, no board of directors, no stockholders". (Sterling) It\'s an open forum where the only thing holding anyone back is a conscience. The Internet has "no central authority" (Sterling) and therefore it makes it difficult to be censored. As a result of these and more, the Internet offers