Last October, congress passed and President Clinton signed into law a new “sequel” to the unconstitutional Communications Decency Act. This new Internet censorship bill, the Child Online Protection Act or COPA (a. k. a. “CDA II”), would establish criminal penalties for any commercial distribution of material deemed “harmful to minors”.
Although I feel that this law will probably be overturned like CDA, it shows how determined some politicians are to ignore our constitutional rights to free speech and impose their own views of whats “indecent” and “harmful to minors” on others. I believe that the government should have no business imposing these unconstitutional laws. The laws themselves are way to vague, many avocates of Internet censorship laws are ignorant of what the Internet really is or how it works, laws like these wouldnt work, and there are many alternatives to government enforced laws to protect children that would be much less invasive. The bills for laws aimed at regulating the Internet for the sake of child safety are, in my opinion, extremely vague and broadsided.
They give absolutely no definition of what should be considered “obscene” or “harmful to minors. ” Definitions annexed on to them are extremely broadsided and could not only ban pornography but also things like information on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, breast cancer, certain forms of artwork, and many other things that should never be considered “obscene. ” However Internet censorship laws could potentially make it illegal to publish things like this on the Internet, and in being so vague, there is plenty of room for abuse of laws like these. Politicians could misuse these laws to ban things that they personally consider immoral or simply dont like even if they arent considered “offensive to minors” by most people, abridging our rights to free speech even further.
Aside from the vagueness of these proposed laws, they could prove impossible to enforce. Many people who push laws like these are ignorant of how the Internet works or even what the Internet really is. Most of these people argue that web site content should be regulated like television stations regulate the content of their programs. However, the Internet is not a television.
Unlike television, the Internet is almost completely baseless, no one company has complete control of whats online as opposed to a television station. And also unlike television, as well as most other forms of mass-media, its cheap and easy to run a web site as opposed to a television show or a newspaper, thus rendering anyone with an Internet connection, the right software and the know-how capable of publishing material on the Internet. Another thing often overlooked by the Censorship supporters is the fact that the Internet is a worldwide network. No US law could control the content of foreign web sites any more than that of foreign television stations or newspapers, and a foreign web site is just as accessible as a domestic one. There are numerous alternatives to government enforced laws to keep minors from accessing “offensive” sites on the Internet. At home, the computer should be kept in a generally high-traffic area of the house to make it easy to monitor a childs Internet usage.
Another option, although I personally disagree with it, would be to install blocking software that would restrict access to sites that contain key words that would supposedly make the site “offensive. ” Overall, I feel its the parents job to supervise a childs Internet access and not the Federal Governments. Of all the ways I feel that Internet censorship laws are wrong, the most important is the feeling that these kind of laws are a violation to our constitutional rights to free speech as stated in the First Amendment. The Internet is a new medium for free speech worldwide, and I think that it would be terribly ironic if the United States should be the first nation to pass laws restricting this, for the sake of inefficiently protecting minors from unproven “damaging” material.