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Pornography on the Internet

Pornography is an age-old phenomenon that has been under much modern-day scrutiny. With the recent proliferation of online pornography, possible social ramifications of sexually explicit material on uncontrolled mediums have become the subjects of intense debate. Proponents of a liberal approach toward pornography argue that access to online smut is a constitutionally protected freedom and "a harmless diversion that serves to satisfy curiosity and relieve sexual tensions.5" Opponents of this view are particularly concerned with the social effects of online pornography and its effect on the values and morals of minors who can access pornographic images. I will argue for the liberal side and argue that porn in both print form and electronic form should be constitutionally protected.
The major piece of legislation that would infringe on the rights of Internet users was the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. The CDA labeled the transmission of "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent, or patently offensive" pornography over the Internet a crime. It was attached to the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996, which was then passed by Congress on February 1, 1996. The bill was created to outlaw obscene material on the web and impose fines of up to $100,000 and prison terms of up to two years on anyone who knowingly makes "indecent" material available to children under eighteen5. The Act used sweeping generalizations, which banned all forms of nudity in written and graphic form on the Internet. The clauses of the Act were so broad that posting pictures of famous works of art on the Internet, such as Michaelangelo’s David, would be grounds for a heavy fine. Sexually related articles and photos, which are constitutionally protected in tangible form, would have been deemed unconstitutional in electronic form. Although the United States Supreme Court declared the Act unconstitutional, many congressional representatives still feel that the Act should remain intact.
One major flaw of the CDA is that it uses "community standards" to judge what is considered legal on the Internet. Unlike most forms of media, the Internet has no defined community; it is a decentralized, ungoverned body that is accessible to every person with a computer and a telephone line in the world. If there are "community standards," to which community do they belong? Do they belong to the communities of the Netherlands where prostitution and marijuana are legal, or to the communities of Bible-belt American, where family values are top priorities? The CDA went beyond its jurisdiction by claiming that "community standards" was the device with which to measure indecency. The standards of conservative lawmakers should not be the standards that gauge the appropriateness of the Internet, and these lawmakers are wrong to assume that their morals are mirrored in "community standards" throughout America.
The vast library located on the Internet would be transformed into nothing more than a "children\'s reading room, where only material suitable for minors could be viewed and discussed," since the bill would have made books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye illegal in electric form5. Banning books solely because they are in electronic form is a direct infringement on every American’s First Amendment rights. If the Act were ruled constitutional, adults would find no educational value in using this new medium that has so much potential for progressive growth. If intellectual books were banned for no other reason than Congress’s attempt to protect American’s youth from the ills of society, the net would be abandoned by many individuals over the age of eighteen. When The Catcher in the Rye and the King James Bible become symbols of the ills of society, then maybe I will see the CDA’s point. Until that time, it is every American’s constitutional right to read and share protected information with others around the globe, especially if the information is legal in print form.
Additionally, the Internet is an entirely different medium than television and radio, and it deserves to be treated as such. When one examines the manner by which pornographic material is obtained on all three of these mediums, the Internet is actually the least dangerous and imposing. When one "channel surfs" while watching television, there are no warnings that precede the next channel a viewer is about to watch. If a person is viewing