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Censoring the Internet
Censoring the Internet
The internet offers a huge wealth of information both good and bad, unfortunately the vary nature of the internet makes policing this new domain practically impossible. The internet began as a small university network in the United States and has blossomed into a vast telecommunications network spanning the globe. Today the internet is ruled by no governing body and it is an open society for ideas to be developed and shared in. Unfortunately every society has its seedy underside and the internet is no exception. To fully understand the many layers to this problem, an understanding of net history is required.
Some thirty years ago the RAND corporation, Americas first and foremost Cold War think-tank faced a strange strategic problem. The cold war had spawned technologies that allowed countries with nuclear capability to target multiple cities with one missile fired from the other side of the world. Post-nuclear America would need a command and control network, linked from city to city, state to state and base to base. No matter how thoroughly that network was armored or protected, its switches and wiring would always be vulnerable to the impact of atomic bombs. A nuclear bombardment would reduce any network to tatters.
Any central authority would be an obvious and immediate target for enemy missiles. The center of a network would be the first place to go. So RAND mulled over this puzzle in deep military secrecy and arrived at their solution. In 1964 their proposed ideas became public. Their network would have no central authority, and it would be designed from the beginning to operate while in tatters. All the nodes in the network would be equal in status to all other nodes, each node having its own authority to originate, pass and receive messages. The messages themselves would be divided into packets, each packet separately addressed. Each packet would begin at some specified source node and end at some other specified destination node.
The particular route that the packet took would be unimportant, only the final results counted. Each packet would be tossed around like a hot potato from node to node, more or less in the direction of its destination, until it ended up in the proper place. If big chunks of the network were blown away, which wouldn't matter, the packets would still stay airborne, moving across the field by whatever nodes happened to survive. This system was efficient in any means (especially when compared to the phone system), but it was extremely tough.
In the 1960's this concept was thrown around by RAND, MIT and UCLA. In 1969 the first such node was installed in UCLA. By December of 69, there were four nodes on the network, which was called ARPANET, after its Pentagon sponsor. The nodes of the network were high-speed supercomputers. (supercomputers at the time, desktop machines now) Thanks to APRANET scientists and researchers could share one another's computer facilities over long-distances. By the second year of its operation however,
APRANET's users had warped the high cost, computer sharing network into a dedicated, high-speed, federally subsidized electronic post office. The main bulk of traffic on ARPANET was not long-distance computing, it was news and personal messages. The incredibly expensive network using the fastest computers on the planet was a message base for gossip and schmooze.
Throughout the 70s this very fact made the network grow, its software allowed many different types of computers to become part of the network. Since the network was decentralized it was difficult to stop people from barging in and linking up. In fact nobody wanted to stop them from joining up and this branching complex of networks came to be known as the internet.
In 1984 the National Science Foundation got into the act, and the new NSFNET set a blistering pace for technical advancement, linking newer, faster, shinier supercomputers through thicker, faster links. ARPANET formally expired in 1989, a victim of its own success, but its users scarcely noticed as ARPANET's functions not only continued but improved. In 1971 only four nodes existed, today tens of thousands of nodes make up the network and 35 million of users make up the internet community.
The internet is and institution that resists institutionalization. The internet community, belonging to everyone yet no-one, resembles our own community in many ways, and is susceptible to many of the same pressures. Business people want the internet put on sounder financial footing. Government people want the Internet more fully regulated. Academics want it dedicated exclusively to scholarly research. Military people want it spyproof and secure. All these sources of conflict remain in a stumbling balance and so far the internet remains in a thrivingly anarchial condition. This however is a mixed blessing.
Today people pay ISP's or Internet Service Providers for internet access. ISP's usually have fast computers with dedicated connections to the internet. ISP's now more than ever are becoming the backbone of the internet. The average netcitizen uses their computer to call and ISP, and the netcitizens computer temporarily becomes a part of the internet. The user is free to browse or transfer information with others. Most ISP's even allow their users to set up permanent homepages on the ISP's computer for the whole internet community to view. This is where many ethical and moral questions arise regarding the internet. Not every user wants his homepage to deal with the spin rates of atoms or the airspeed of South African swallows. Some users wish to display "objectionable" material on their homepages.
This may have started out as a prank to some, but now net- porn is an offshoot industry on the information superhighway. Companies like Playboy and Hustler run their own servers that are permanent parts of the internet, and on their pages they charge user to view Playboy and Hustler type material. What makes matters worse is evolution of the internet newsgroup system. USENET in its infancy was ARPANET's news and message component. Today USENET is a huge database with thousands of newsgroups that all internet users have access to. Millions use groups like alt.comp.disscussion.games to share ideas, and millions use groups like alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.teen to share ideas and pictures that are less family oriented.
Average users can also set up homepages on ISP's. In fact, most packages ISP's offer usually include space for your own homepage. They are easy to create and the ISP's maintain them for free so the entire online community can see what you have to say. Unfortunately not everyone wants to set up homepages dealing with the spin rates of atoms or the airspeeds of South American swallows. Most ISP's are more than willing to set up homepages dealing with the most gratuitous of acts aimed at very specialized audiences.
This is where the problem of net censorship arises. It is true that there is a wealth of pornography and other indecent material online for all to see. All that a person has to do is to type in an "indecent" word and modern search engines will point to sites where the word crops up. Typing in a popular for letter expletive into two of the most popular search engines yielded 17224 hits for Lycos and 40000 for AltaVista, the worlds biggest search engine. However both of these engines have over 60 million cataloged web pages. Although this material makes up less that 1% of all messages on USENET or pages on the world-wide-web, that is still a staggering number as there are millions of messages and web-pages on the internet.
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