Tuesday, 23 June 2015 14:53




Censorship of information on the Internet has become a much publicized debate that currently has no resolution in sight. There is a great controversy as to whether or not censorship is a necessity in order to maintain a particular moral standard. In the case that there should be a standard, what information should people have access to? Even if there is no single answer that everyone agrees to, it is an issue that has been confronted and is being dealt with. The amount of material generated by this debate alone is huge, but the addition of the world-wide network known as the Internet only makes it grow. During the past several years the Internet has expanded the abilities of the common person to gain information on a global scale. As the Internet industry grows and expands almost daily, new issues of censorship and freedom of expression are arising. Issues such as the exposure of pornography to children as well as the censoring of material to students have caused enormous amounts of controversy. However, these topics are just a few of the problems with the material available over the Internet. This paper combines the issues, debates and ideas of Internet censorship from the papers of 15 individuals.

A Small History of Censorship

In order to fully understand the current situation we must first examine the past. Censorship has been an issue before with a tragic outcome. It seems like when new technology arrives the government tries to rush in and regulate it. This was the case with the US. Postal Service literature in public schools and libraries. Recently the government tried to regulate the telephone companies, and now laws have been written about the Internet. The first reported government censorship was back in 1864 when a postmaster general discovered a large amount of nude pictures were being sent to the Civil War troops. Laws were quickly passed to ban sending "[any] obscene book[s], pamphlet[s], picture[s], print[s], or other publication[s] of vulgar and indecent character" through the US. mail.

This was just the beginning. An influential figure, Anthony Comstock, who lived at the same time, took measures to have literature in America censored. Many classics with passages that may have been "racy" or deemed "offensive" to some were quickly banned from publishing, some were even recalled and destroyed. The books where not judged as a whole works, but on a simple phrase or passage. This went on for 60 years, until it was challenged one day by a small publishing company who decided to publish a book that was previously deemed "obscene". The case was taken to court and the book was ruled not to be obscene because of the couple passages that had previously qualified it as being such. The ruling was that the book with its few obscene passages did not make the entire book obscene. As a result of this ruling, the guidelines of what is considered obscene have been modified.

Other issues about censorship have been raised in the past decade concerning books read by high school seniors. The issue of censorship was brought into English classes in high schools. It was debated whether Huckleberry Finn was an appropriate piece of literature to be read and discussed in the classrooms. Some parents were outraged that a book that used one racial word and one passage that had an adult male and a younger male together nude on the river, was going to be read in the classroom. They judged the whole book by one word and a single passage. Luckily for the students, they were given a chance to read the classic and other books that raise the same issues. 

The Development and Growth of the Internet

Now that we have talked a little about the history of censorship, lets talk about the history of the Internet and its growth. The Internet grew out of developments in packet switching and distributed computer networks designed to be secure in time of war - distributed systems are less susceptible to damage, because transmissions can be routed around the damage. Standard protocols ensure that any platform can be connected to this network, and this meant that local area networks could be linked while retaining all the advantages of LANs, specifically the need not to rely on a single timesharing computer. These developments continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s until we arrived at the Internet we now know - an informal network of networks spanning the globe with almost 4 million hosts, each of which may be serving anywhere between one and 2 million users. It has been suggested that, at current growth rates, everyone on the planet could be connected to the Internet by the year 2003! Alongside this astonishing growth, which is aided, of course, by the ready availability of low-cost computers, free software, and inexpensive telecommunications, is the singularly important fact that the Internet is not controlled by any single authority. The Internet Society (ISOC) is a voluntary organization responsible for technical standards, etc., while the Internet Engineering Task Force (ITF) handles operational and technical problems. No single body, however, can be said to control the Internet and more importantly what is distributed over it.

The Internet has had massive growing within the last few years. Four years ago, many computer literate individuals were not exposed to the Internet nor aware of the existence of the term. Today, the Internet is mentioned almost daily within many newspapers. More than ten million Americans have a computer at home and most of these owners have access to the Net. It has become so effortless to sit down at a computer and just click from one page to another for hours. This leisure activity, more commonly referred to as "Internet surfing," can be amusing no matter what the age of the individual. There are many children that have access to a computer either at home or in their schools and they know how to use it to surf the net. However, college students have more exposure than most age groups for several reasons. First and foremost, most universities issue an e-mail address to every student that is registered for classes. Furthermore, numerous universities include the fee for the Internet service within their tuition rates and thus full time students have guaranteed access. In addition, many professors urge students to use the Net (i.e. to get information for reports) to keep students updated with the technology that is available to them. Nevertheless, the use of the Internet is expanding rapidly. It is indisputable that there will be more growth within the future. With all this traffic on the Internet, there must be an adequate variety of material available for all of these "surfers".

Background To the Censorship Debate

Last year's original Exon legislation was prompted in part by the use of electronic mail to stalk a Michigan schoolteacher. Among other cases: 

  • Prosecutors in Tennessee won convictions, now on appeal, for material they obtained from a computer bulletin board in Milpitas, Calif., based on Memphis standards of what is obscene. 
  • The Church of Scientology has tried to silence a critic by asking a Los Angeles bulletin board operator as well as Netcom On-Line Communications Services to screen electronic messages. 
  • A New York investment bank -- showing the kind of money that is at stake -- is seeking $200 million in damages from Prodigy Services Corp. for "negligently" allowing libelous statements to appear on one of its bulletin boards. 
  • The Jewish Defense League has demanded that America Online begin to monitor neo-Nazi recruiters on its network. 

The Rising Demand of Cyberporn

In the Timej@azKuH4AQAAQDxh/time/magazine/domestic/1995/950703/950703.cover.html" style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; font-size: medium;">"Cyberporn" article, Elmer-De Witt tells us: "It is clear that pornography is being vigorously marketed in increasingly sophisticated ways and has now found a receptive audience in a wide variety of computer environments. According to industry experts and the pornographers themselves, there are at least five factors in addition to an increased focus on paraphilic content which account for this recent explosion of pornography via computer networks. First, consumers enjoy considerable privacy on computer networks and can easily avoid the potential embarrassment of walking into an "adult" store to acquire pornography. Second, consumers have the ability to download only those images that they find most sexually arousing. Previously, a consumer had to purchase an entire magazine or video in order to gain access to a few desired depictions. Third, easy, discrete storage of pornographic images on a computer enables consumers to conceal them from family members, friends, and associates. Fourth, the prevalence and fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases has helped pornographers to successfully market "modem sex" and autoeroticism as "safe" and viable alternatives to the dangers of "real" sex. Finally, new and highly advanced computer technologies are quickly being absorbed into the mainstream, permitting an ever-expanding audience to gain access to digitized pornography available on the "Information Superhighway."

Pornography is a major market that is rocketing itself into today's society, however, it is not the only controversial topic that has found a place cyberspace. Both public and private interest groups have shown great concern for the content of material available via the Internet. They are driven by deeply rooted religious and ethical beliefs. They feel that the Internet is a medium that is being abused to allow extremists, unethical, and immoral individuals to corrupt society.

Freedom of Speech Issue

Let's discuss the Freedom of Speech as it is enforced in the U.S. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As can be seen from above, The First Amendment includes the Freedom of Speech. The censorship and pornography along with other controversial topics are all intertwined within the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers acted with premeditation and forethought when in adopting the Bill of Rights they placed the freedom of information at the top of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. However, every generation since 1790--in fact, virtually every decade--has redefined and reinterpreted the First Amendment. Yet freedom of speech is not absolute; laws exist regarding libel, obscenity, national security, access to government information, and regulation of electronic mass communications.

Today the United States faces the significant challenge of restoring the traditions of free speech and diversity of information. Free speech involves the use of the Internet to express the mass quantities of ideas across the nation and across the globe. To many people, new information and communications technologies are the link between the problems of yesterday and the possibilities of tomorrow. The gulf between the computer fluent and nonfluent will become more serious as more and more information is available only through computerized databases and information services.

What is Not Protected by the First Amendment

Are any forms of expression not protected by the First Amendment? The Supreme Court has established several limited exceptions to the First Amendment's protection:

FIGHTING WORDS: In the 1942 case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court held that so-called "fighting words...which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are not protected under the First Amendment and can be punished. The Court based its decision on the concept that such utterances are of "slight social value as a step to truth."

LIBEL: In the 1964 case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court held, in a ground breaking decision, that defamatory falsehoods published about public officials are not protected by the First Amendment and can be punished if the offended official can prove that his/her accuser published the falsehoods with "actual malice" -- that is, with "knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." While the Court's decision addressed a particular type of common law libel, other kinds of "libelous statements "are also punishable.

COMMERCIAL SPEECH: In the 1976 case of Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, the Supreme Court struck down a state ban on prescription drug advertising on First Amendment grounds. However, commercial speech -- which includes advertising, financial and credit reports, and the like -- still has far less First Amendment protection than other speech. Generally, it can be banned if it is, on the whole, misleading or takes undue advantage of its audience.

OBSCENITY: "Obscene" material has historically been excluded from First Amendment protection which has led to the official banning of such classics as James Joyce's Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, as well as the criminal prosecution of countless publishers, book distributors, storekeepers, film distributors and artists.

Cases In Which the First Amendment Did Not Protect

The First Amendment has been one of the great laws of the land in which U.S. citizens are guaranteed individual rights by the government. However, there are several cases where this constitutional right has been overridden. One historical example involves Eugene Debs , a pioneer of the Socialist movement in the United States in the early 1900's. He took an anti-war position during World War I and was thrown into prison for publicly expressing this idea. His imprisonment was upheld by the Supreme Court led by Justice Wendell Holmes. 

There are in addition to case law, several laws that contradict the freedom of speech. Libel, slander, defamation of character, hate speech, and sexual harassment are common examples. Pornography laws and the freedom of expression also fall in the category of speech. This is not to say that any of these laws are necessary or to argue the moral value of these laws but to establish that laws already exist against the first amendment. So we agree that, although it is plainly stated in the Constitution, there are several laws restricting speech in the U.S.

Now, the question remains about how the Internet affects the protection of speech. The Internet is a medium of communication like television, periodicals, and radio. The Internet has the added complication of serving people from all over the world on one medium. So whose laws apply? Pornography is illegal in the Middle East, so can an American posting images on the Internet that someone in Saudi Arabia downloads be held liable? If a person in Japan posts a message that someone in the US finds offensive or demeaning, can the American sue according to US law, or does the case fall under Japanese jurisdiction? Or, if this type of offense is not illegal according to Japanese law, is there any basis at all for judicial intervention? So, if there was to be a universal Freedom of Speech law, it would have to encompass all participating countries' interpretations of Freedom of Speech, as well as define what is and what is not allowed under such a law. Is such a compromise possible? 

These and other questions are still to be answered by society as the Internet develops throughout the globe. More issues are evolving as different events occur because of the wide spread and inevitable use and abuse of the Internet.

A Closer Look at Obscenity

It seems as if the key to this whole argument over censorship are the words "freedom of speech". If one considers the Internet to be a medium which allows for the free expression of ideas and if one additionally allows that the Internet can be considered a 'borderless' marketplace, then it is certainly worth considering that perhaps free speech is already protected on the Internet? At least speech would be protected in this country. While it is true that certain parts of the Internet (news groups and the World Wide Web, for example) seem to be mostly given over to the distribution of adult materials, the general spirit of the Internet as espoused by groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation is that of a medium for the free exchange of ideas. Throughout the years the Supreme Court has ruled many times on that issue. Each time, it defended the right to free speech as long as the speech was not "obscene". In the 1973 case of Miller v. California, the Court re-examined the issue and established a standard for determining whether material is obscene. The Court ruled that material is legally obscene if:

  1. the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would conclude that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests;
  2. it depicts sexually explicit conduct, specifically defined by law, in a patently offensive manner; and
  3. it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

After the case of Miller v. California, the courts ruled that all ideas having any social worth, be it controversial or hateful, must be protected by the First Amendment. All this really means is that you might not like what the person is saying but you must still respect their right to say it. The Miller test is still the law today.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's long-standing unwillingness to strike down all obscenity laws as unconstitutional infringements on freedom of expression has allowed censorship to flourish at various times in our history because of public officials' tendency to apply the Court's narrow limits in over board ways. This remains a problem with all of the limited exceptions to the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court decided that there was a class of material called obscenity which is not covered by the First Amendment. It was odd that there was a category which was not clearly defined. This means that an image or document may be illegal due to obscenity in one community and may be perfectly legal and protected by the First Amendment in another community. This would seem to indicate that what the Supreme Court calls obscenity is nothing more than the thinly veiled prejudice of the governing bodies in those communities.

The Communications Decency Act

On February 1, 1996 Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act. This act entails the prohibition of providing access of pornographic material through the use of various communication devices including the Internet. The first versions of this act only included the prohibition of providing access to minors, however, the version that was passed included access to all individuals. This act has stirred various reactions from Net users. Many are shocked and believe that their First Amendment rights have been violated. Others feel that this Act will benefit society by reducing the amount of immoral material that people will be exposed to.

With the passing of this act, it would be obvious that news groups such as alt.binaries.erotica would immediately be removed. However, to this date these sites and others still exist. There are still many brave soles that post their material, even though the Communication Decency Act is being fully enforced. The controversy still continues today.

For more information on the Communication Decency Act click here.

The Carnegie Mellon University Situation

Recently there has been an attempt to limit the types of news groups that can be view by particular sites. This issue has met with a strong opposition in a much publicized case at Carnegie Mellon University. The university planned on withdrawing student access to all news groups under the alt.sex hierarchy and a few other news groups that were deemed to have obscene content. The university claimed to have several reason for restricting the student access to certain user groups. One reason behind their decision was to avoid possible legal action against them for providing sexually explicit materials to minors, since some of their first year students were not yet eighteen years of age. Another reason that influenced their decision was a study by Marty Rimm about pornography on the Internet and in particular on news groups at the university. This study claimed to have found that about 84 percent of all news groups at Carnegie Mellon were explicitly used for accessing pornographic pictures and other sexually explicit material. With the unleashing of the results of this study, the decision of Carnegie Mellon to limit the access of news groups to their students came shortly afterwards. 

Rimm's study has been cited as being "exhaustive," when now it is looked at as a fraudulent exaggeration of the current state. The study was said to examine over 900,000 images, 83.5 percent of which were pornographic. An article written about the Rimm report and subsequent hysteria said that the article is fraudulent and based on the description of "slightly more than 4,000 images."

The main argument against the action taken by CMU to restrict access to the news groups that had sexually explicit content was that the "discussion of sexual matters of any sort is Constitutionally protected speech" under the First Amendment to the Constitution. This argument has no effect on the alt.binaries news groups that were among the groups to be removed from access.

Carnegie Mellon reacted to Rimm's study in accordance to Pennsylvania state censorship laws which prohibit the distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors. The law states that "No person shall knowingly disseminate.. explicit sexual materials to a minor." When the news of the University's decision reached the student body, a rally was organized to address the students' concerns and ideas on the subject. The students claimed that it was not that they wanted to be able to have access to pornography but that it was their right to make their own decisions guaranteed by the First Amendment. Vic Walczk, the Pittsburgh ACLU executive director who was a speaker at that rally, stated that "For well-established reasons of free speech, this type of censorship is not only wrong, but very dangerous. The Internet is analogous to a library and libraries are protected from obscenity prosecutions under Pennsylvania law." The Pennsylvania state censorship laws exempt "any library of any school, college, or university" from this law. However, the statement that the Internet and particularly Usenet news groups are analogous to a library appears to be weak. This statement is only supported by the later statement which says, "by providing wide access to the Internet, the University is, in effect, functioning as an electronic librarian." 

For more material on this topic refer to the following sites:
CMU Concerns.

Censorship for Children

In this society more and more emphasis is being placed on technology and the Information Superhighway. More concern is arising among parents about the availability of pornography to children over the Internet. First of all, in many public and private schools and in many homes, children are being connected to the Internet. A thought must be paid to the safety of children on the Internet. Children are gaining more access to the Internet and there are some problems that need to be considered, such as the "risk that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material of a sexual or violent nature." Several web search sites exist allowing anyone to perform a keyword search. Performing such a search on Yahoo, a popular search engine, provided 290 matches to the keyword sex. This provided many links to sexually explicit materials that could be easily followed.

One side argues that it is difficult to supervise their children at all times. Due to this fact, there must be some other way to censor the material that is available on the Net. The Internet should not be a place where children can have easy access to sexually explicate material. After all, movies have ratings and now a television chip is being developed to censor what can be viewed on television by children. Therefore, the Internet should also have a way for censoring the pornography.

Others argue that parents are responsible for the activity of their children and therefore should also be held responsible when their children are misusing a computer. This would eliminate any need for government involvement in the issue. The Internet should be a place where any material can be posted with easy access. It should be able to be used by anyone with a connection to the Net. Some support the argument with the fact that most pornography sites have a cover page that warns all individuals who accidentally stumble upon the location. Children stumble upon these sites but many cannot download them. They must be knowledgable in order to download the files and use a viewer for the pornography.

Alternatives to Governmental Censorship

For those who wish to control what their children or students access on the Internet, there are several alternatives to governmental censorship.

Voluntary ratings

Several individuals and organizations have suggested methods whereby information providers rate themselves, or are rated by other organizations, just as U.S. films are rated now. The best known plan is PICS, announced in October 1995 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3). In this proposal, any organization could assign ratings and parents could use them to filter incoming Web pages. Internet Filtering Systems, Inc. (IFSI) creates a product claiming to promote the PICS system.

Filtering based on origin

Certain news groups such as the alt.binaries.pictures.erotica set are dedicated to sexual material. By blocking these well-known sites you can keep your children from seeing the vast majority of sexual discussion. Surf Watch is an example of an existing product that contains a set of sites where access is denied; you can add your own list of sites to it.

Filtering based on keywords and key phrases

Another approach is to make a list of obscene words and phrases or ones that herald the coming of content you find objectionable. Then you force the system to stop downloading material when these are found. The technology can be applied to both public postings and private email. Net Nanny is an existing product that uses this approach.

Subscription to an approved service

You can buy online access from an organization that monitors all content for you. Prodigy was originally set up to operate this way but it loosened its policy after complaints (and many people also claimed that it never succeeded in blocking objectionable messages). Religious or commercial organizations can offer lists of approved sites, and you can limit your access to those.

Prosecution of child pornographers

Laws already exist against child pornography and have been used on electronic networks. No new laws are needed that single out electronic media regarding this particular issue.

Guidance and discussion

This is ultimately the least coercive and most positive approach. Just as you caution children in how to act when they go out in public, you can talk to them about what's online and help them protect themselves. It is also felt that morals and ethics should be taught in the home because children are exposed to all sorts of material.

The Adult BBS Concern

The only thing readily comparable to the web pages providing pornographic and sexually explicit materials are Adult Bulletin Board Services (BBS's). Adult BBS's require proof of age to allow access to such materials. For what reason would Internet sites have weaker restrictions? Some news- based web pages require registration to determine who is using their web site. A similar system could be adopted to prevent minors from gaining access to sites providing explicit materials. One could argue that forcing registration of this sort would be a violation of privacy. It is similar to materials that are distributed in a real-world setting where proof of age is required. Just because access is via an electronic medium does not change the nature of the material or the responsibilities of the distributor. This is evident by the Adult BBS's that were previously mentioned.

As with the Internet, much debate and many problems have to resolve concerning the topic of adult bulletin boards. Consider the tale of Robert and Carleen Thomas. The couple was system operators (sysops) of their private members-only Bulletin Board System (BBS) in California. The BBS provided for its members sexually explicit pictures and chat groups. One day a web surfer from Memphis Tennessee happened to cross the Thomases's BBS and found the material offensive. The Tennessee man reported to the U.S. Postal service his findings. After an investigation, the Thomases were indicted, tried in a Memphis federal court, and convicted on the charge of distributing obscene materials in interstate commerce. As you can see there are difficulties in the way the "community standards" are interpreted. Although in their home state of California the materials that they offered to their users were not considered obscene, they were in Tennessee. It has always been that the individual's right to own obscenity in their own home is protected as long as they: 1) do not sell it, 2) display it publicly, 3) or show it to children.

The Thomases have appealed the case and have offered in their defense that if the same Memphis man had come to California and purchased the same type of sexually explicit material and transported it back to Tennessee that he would not have broken any laws. They feel that on the same grounds the Memphis man traveled virtually through the Internet to their BBS. Unfortunately, in the past, the Courts have thrown out arguments involving such a defense.

Anonymous Re-mailers

Anonymity is another issue which can be linked to the freedom of speech on the Internet. Much like accountability, it relates to the feeling of freedom. Some services on the Internet provide ways for users to become anonymous. This creates the freedom to make comments without revealing their identity. 

A good example that relates to anonymity on the Internet is the usage of the phone and caller identification (ID). Before caller ID, phone calls were always anonymous. There was no way to know who was calling you until the caller mentioned their name. Caller ID identifies each caller with the phone number they are calling from which limits the amount of anonymity. The Internet is a lot like a caller ID because each person on the Internet has a user name that is displayed. Now there are services that allow for users to become anonymous which are like a phone without the caller ID.

An anonymous remailer is one of the services allowing anonymity. Andre Bacardi, the author of anonymous remailer FAQ, defines anonymous remailers as, " a free computer service that privatizes your e-mail " and it " allows you to send electronic mail to a Usenet news group or to a person without the recipient knowing your name or your e-mail address"

There are some advantages to anonymity. For example, users can post messages without being identified. Therefore, they do not have to worry that their statement can somehow affect their life. Certain people are in very sensitive situations that prohibit them from revealing their true identities. A long list of situations requiring anonymity is at this site on the Internet:http://www.oberlin.edu/~brchkind/cyphernomicon/chapter8/8.4.html

A disadvantage to anonymity is that users will take advantage of the freedom. Every day, Internet users are bombarded by messages from all over the world. Most of the messages are harassing and obtrusive. Some users will post these messages under an anonymous user name. An example of this happening in the real world is slanderous graffiti. However, messages on the Internet are broadcast to everyone in the world while graffiti is localized. It is the people who are taking advantage of this freedom of speech and causing the Internet to become a virtual world filled with hate. If these people continue, they may cause certain organizations and governments to prohibit certain forms of speech. In essence, the abusive senders of messages will cause the Internet to become regulated, something that everyone fears.

While we as U.S. citizens may enjoy protection from the actions of other governments, it is difficult to know what would happen to citizens of other governments committing the same actions. There are ways to avoid the question. With the availability of both anonymous remailers and PGP software, computer users in foreign countries with more restrictive laws regarding free speech could be able to express themselves more freely, at least in the online world. This possibility could lead to greater freedom for those in less open societies. 

The idea that the Internet could be a liberating force is an exciting one. While the U.S. government has attempted to curtail and prevent the exportation of cryptographic technology such as Pretty Good Privacy by Phil Zimmerman, given the dynamics of the Internet, and the rapidity with which data may be transferred online, it is almost certain the programs like PGP are in wide distribution globally. Rather than attempting to prevent foreigners from acquiring programs that encrypt data (disregarding for the sake of argument the very real and valid assertion that hostile governments could gain our encryption technology and use it for their own ends), perhaps the U.S. government should encourage the distribution of such programs. If such programs were available, the encouragement to democracy and dissidents would be immense. Dissidents living in oppressively governed countries could discuss issues of relevance to them openly on a news group. Simply by using existing cryptography software (i.e. PGP), such people would be safe from the prying eyes of their government. Dissidents using such encryption would be secure from the governmental agencies that would hope to scan all electronic message traffic passing through gateways. Anonymous remailers could also assist those who would hope to post "dangerous" messages in news groups. In fact, this use can be seen in many USENET news group postings.

Who is the Responsible?

In the case of Stratton Oakmont vs Prodigy, "Stratton Oakmont, a brokerage firm based in Lake Success, N.Y., brought charges against the Prodigy online service. Individuals sent a series of postings accusing Stratton Oakmont of criminal behavior and violations of Securities and Exchange Commission rules to Prodigy's "Money Talk" forum. Last year, Stratton Oakmont sued Prodigy for $200 million in libel damages. Prodigy lawyers argued that the server is a passive carrier of information like the telephone company. Stratton Oakmont countered that Prodigy is in the business and is therefore responsible for all communication on its service.

A New York state judge ruled that Prodigy, which routinely screens postings for obscene or potentially libelous content, does in fact exert a form of editorial control over content on its system and could be sued as a publisher. Prodigy is appealing the state court's decision."

After taking a close look at the case mentioned above, it is obvious that it is unreasonable to expect a service to physically read every message for content. This is exactly what would be required. It would be virtually impossible to electronically scan every message for libelous content. Also, as can be seen from a recent Virginia Tech case, the point of origin of the message may effect a person's right to post that message. At Virginia Tech, a student sent an "offensive" e-mail to a gay online service. The university took action against this student because he used a "vt.edu" suffix for his return address. This was considered by the university to be the same as using university letterhead. In a recent local PBS special, the director of communication services for Virginia Tech stated that for the most part, "Virginia Tech considers network access to students to be a pay service, but that when users post messages with a return address of "vt.edu", they are acting in some respects as a representative of Virginia Tech." The director went on to state, "the university has the right to take action against those who make statements while acting as an electronic "spokesman" for the college." This would imply in some sense, that Virginia Tech is saying that it will attempt to control the content of messages which originate from its service. Again, the difficulty which Prodigy faced comes into play.


With the discussion of various issues concerning the Internet, it is easy to see that the topic has no clear cut resolution. With the passing of the Communication Decency Act, one would believe that much of the controversy would be resolved. However, this is far from reality. Many individuals are now stepping forward to voice their opinions about this topic. It is left to the reader to make their own decision on Internet censorship, given the various debates throughout this paper. Hopefully the reader feels more educated about the current problems and issues with Internet censorship that have to be dealt with in the future.  

Written By: Usman Qazi



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