Censorship Except

This essay has a total of 2935 words and 10 pages.


"Inevitably, being an uncontrolled system, means that the Internet will be subjected to
subversive applications of some unscrupulous users." (Kershaw) The concept of the Internet
was created in answer to a strategic problem faced by the United States government during
the Cold war era. A nuclear attack would easily disrupt a traditional computer network and
hence make communication impossible. The solution was found in a new type of network. A
network where all nodes would be equal in status, that is to say each could send and
receive messages. The resulting projects were the first steps towards the birth of the
Internet, as we know it. Today, the Internet consists of several parts, which include the
World Wide Web, FTP, IRC, News groups, Gopher, WAIS, Archie, and Email. The Internet is
continuing to grow at a rate of 40% a year, with roughly 20 million users to date. Over
the past few years, the issue of Internet censorship has been subject to an unprecedented
amount of controversy. Both sides of the debate present very strong arguments about why
the Internet should or should not be censored. The point most often brought forward by
advocates of Internet censorship is that "inappropriate" material can all too easily land
in the hands of children via this powerful new medium. "Inappropriate" mostly describes
the sexually explicit and racist material that is easily found on the Internet. The debate
that currently rages however centres mainly on pornographic material. The essay is divided
into three content-based sections. The first section examines the data that is available
about pornography on the Internet. Conclusions on significance of the data are offered.
Section two examines the legal issues and difficulties surrounding the idea of censorship.
The final section discusses alternative ways of protecting children from pornography and
offers a final conclusion on the attributes of the problem and the suggestion of a
solution. Censorship of Internet is a big issue and not much of it can be covered in an
essay at this level. The essay deliberately focuses only on pornography. While many
aspects had to be left out and others discussed minimally, the result of this essay
remains a brief synopsis of relevant issues and conclusions on these issues. Section 1 In
early 1995, a research team at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
released one of the most revealing studies into online pornography. The value of study,
titled "Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway" is realised mainly due to
its massive sample size. There are several issues about pornography on the Internet that
were highlighted by the study. The research team surveyed 917,410 "sexually explicit
pictures, descriptions, short stories and film clips". Of special interest were Usenet
newsgroups, which are basically electronic forums. It was found that 83.5 percent of the
digitised images stored on these newsgroups were pornographic pictures. This finding
indicates that there clearly is a substantial amount of pornography on the net. This
however does not necessarily indicate that this material is easy to find. To come to a
conclusion, this student conducted several experiments using the on-line "Altavista"
search engine. The key searchword "sex" was entered. 616,156 links were returned. Out of
the first 20 entries listed on the first page only 2 links were to pornographic sites. The
search keyword "tits" however, returned 69,920 links. Out of the first 20 links listed on
the first page 17 were to pornographic websites or bulletin boards. Amidst all these links
was one that led to a French children's pen-pal club called "Les P'tits Garnements. After
reviewing the posted messages and photographs on one of the bulletin boards that showed up
as a link, it was apparent that the purpose of the site was purely for exchange of child
pornography. It is most likely that a minor would come across explicit areas of the
Internet through search engines. Children are very likely to search using traditionally
rude four-letter words more as a source of childish amusement than anything else. There
can be no argument that the resulting links do not justify the level of parental anxiety
that we are witnessing today. Explicit sexual material on the Internet is not the result
of an unfounded moral panic. Anyone that takes the time to conduct a few experiments as
detailed above will realise that this is a most serious issue. The survey also determined
that 71 percent of the sexual images on the newsgroups surveyed originate from
adult-oriented computer bulletin-board systems (BBS) whose operators are trying to lure
customers to their private collections of X-rated material. There are thousands of these
BBS services, which charge fees (typically $10 to $30 a month) and take credit cards; the
five largest have annual revenues in excess of $1 million. This finding is a valuable one.
Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, explicit material is not being circulated by
"perverted socially reclusive computer nerds". This is a commercial activity. As long as
people are willing to pay for it, it will be supplied. This is not a new problem that
society faces. Prostitution and drug trading are other older facets of this same concept.
The Internet has simply brought a new face of the same issue. Perhaps the most disturbing
discovery of the Carnegie Mellon study is one that relates to the changing face of
pornography. It is no longer "just naked women". There is great demand and inevitably
great supply of "pedophilia" (nude photos of children), "hebephilia" (youths) and what the
researchers call "paraphilia" ("a grab bag of deviant material that includes images of
bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts with a barnyard full of
animals"). Anti-censorship activists often argue that censoring the net "makes no
difference" because "obscene" material is available from any old corner shop. These newer
"types" of pornography may actually render this argument obsolete. Children are certainly
exposed to material that even the most adventurous of them would not have normally come
across. Section 2 Most societies like to think of themselves as at least doing something
to limit the development of "problems" such as pornography on the Internet. Governments of
the United Kingdom and United States have both taken legislative steps towards this
effect. It has not been easy in either case and the outcomes have arguably been altogether
unsatisfactory. United Kingdom legislation includes several statutes that are of
particular interest. Section 1(1) of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act provides the
following test for obscenity: "For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to
be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the
effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and
corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see
or hear the matter contained or embodied in it." This definition of "obscene" stems from
the opinion of Lord Cockburn concerning the case Regina v. Hicklin (1868), enunciated the
first important guide in determining what material was obscene. It is open to serious
criticism. The fundamental problem with this definition is that it can condemn material
that may legitimately dealt with sex. Section 43 of the Telecommunications 1984 Act makes
it an offence to send ‘by means of a public telecommunications system, a message or
other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character'
and is an imprisonable offence with a maximum term of six months. When carefully
scrutinised it is clear that the Act itself does not penalise the act of procuring a
message to be sent. As usual, there are loopholes abound. When a telecommunication system
located outside the jurisdiction is used to send obscene materials into the country, no
offence has been committed. The 1984 Act will also not apply to cases where the data is
transmitted by using a local area network unless part of the transmission is routed
through a public telecommunications system. Even though UK legislation has recently been
amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (‘CJPOA 1994'), in order to
keep up with technological changes, there are still wrinkles in its enforcement with
respect to the Internet. United State legislation has gone through many different tests of
"obscenity" for reasons too many and varied to be discussed here. The current definition
of obscenity is based on several conditions as opposed to a single one. On June 14, 1995,
the Senate debated and voted on Title IV of the Telecommunications Competition and
Deregulation Act of 1995 (S.652). Also known as the Communications Decency Act of 1995, it
proposed to amend Section 223 (47 U.S.C. 223) to read: "Whoever, by means of
telecommunications device knowingly makes, creates, or solicits, and initiates the
transmission of, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication
which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse,
threaten, or harass another person," will be charged with a felony punishable by a fine of
up to $100,000 or up to two years in prison, or both." There are two immediately obvious
reasons why the CDA was doomed to fail. Firstly, it may have severely restricted the flow
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