Government Intervention Of The Internet

During the past decade, our society has become based solely on the
ability to move
large amounts of information across large distances quickly.
Computerization has
influenced everyone\'s life. The natural evolution of computers and this
need for
ultra-fast communications has caused a global network of interconnected
computers
to develop. This global net allows a person to send E-mail across the
world in mere
fractions of a second, and enables even the common person to access
information
world-wide. With advances such as software that allows users with a
sound card to
use the Internet as a carrier for long distance voice calls and video
conferencing, this
network is key to the future of the knowledge society. At present, this
net is the
epitome of the first amendment: free speech. It is a place where people
can speak
their mind without being reprimanded for what they say, or how they
choose to say it.
The key to the world-wide success of the Internet is its protection of
free speech, not
only in America, but in other countries where free speech is not
protected by a
constitution. To be found on the Internet is a huge collection of
obscene graphics,
Anarchists\' cookbooks and countless other things that offend some
people. With over
30 million Internet users in the U.S. alone (only 3 million of which
surf the net from
home), everything is bound to offend someone. The newest wave of laws
floating
through law making bodies around the world threatens to stifle this area
of
spontaneity. Recently, Congress has been considering passing laws that
will make it
a crime punishable by jail to send "vulgar" language over the net, and
to export
encryption software. No matter how small, any attempt at government
intervention
in the Internet will stifle the greatest communication innovation of
this century. The
government wants to maintain control over this new form of
communication, and
they are trying to use the protection of children as a smoke screen to
pass laws that
will allow them to regulate and censor the Internet, while banning
techniques that
could eliminate the need for regulation. Censorship of the Internet
threatens to
destroy its freelance atmosphere, while wide spread encryption could
help prevent
the need for government intervention.

The current body of laws existing today in America does not apply well
to the
Internet. Is the Internet like a bookstore, where servers cannot be
expected to
review every title? Is it like a phone company who must ignore what it
carries
because of privacy? Is it like a broadcasting medium, where the
government
monitors what is broadcast? The trouble is that the Internet can be all
or none of
these things depending on how it\'s used. The Internet cannot be viewed
as one
type of transfer medium under current broadcast definitions.

The Internet differs from broadcasting media in that one cannot just
happen upon a
vulgar site without first entering a complicated address, or following a
link from
another source. "The Internet is much more like going into a book store
and
choosing to look at adult magazines." (Miller 75).

Jim Exon, a democratic senator from Nebraska, wants to pass a decency
bill
regulating the Internet. If the bill passes, certain commercial servers
that post
pictures of unclad beings, like those run by Penthouse or Playboy, would
of course
be shut down immediately or risk prosecution. The same goes for any
amateur
web site that features nudity, sex talk, or rough language. Posting any
dirty words
in a Usenet discussion group, which occurs routinely, could make one
liable for a
$50,000 fine and six months in jail. Even worse, if a magazine that
commonly runs
some of those nasty words in its pages, The New Yorker for instance,
decided to
post its contents on-line, its leaders would be held responsible for a
$100,000 fine
and two years in jail. Why does it suddenly become illegal to post
something that
has been legal for years in print? Exon\'s bill apparently would also
"criminalize
private mail," ... "I can call my brother on the phone and say
anything--but if I say
it on the Internet, it\'s illegal" (Levy 53).

Congress, in their pursuit of regulations, seems to have overlooked the
fact that the
majority of the adult material on the Internet comes from overseas.
Although many
U.S. government sources helped fund Arpanet, the predecessor to the
Internet,
they no longer control it. Many of the new Internet technologies,
including the
World Wide Web, have come from overseas. There is no clear boundary
between
information held in the U.S. and information stored in other countries.
Data held in
foreign computers is just as accessible as data in America, all it takes
is the click of
a mouse to access. Even