Virtual Controversies

It was once forcasted that computers in the future would weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
Of course, in today's technologically savvy times, it's a common occurrence to see people
holding their computers in their lap, or even in their hand. There's no doubt about it: the
computer already plays an important role in our lives and that role is likely to expand as more
advancements are made. However, new innovations mean new controversies. The Internet,
for example, has transformed the way people communicate, conduct business, learn, and
entertain themselves. With a simple click of the mouse key, one can do things that were
thought science fiction just a few decades ago. For all the benefits associated with the
Internet, the presence of pornography, hate groups, and other distasteful topics has lead to a
nationwide debate on first amendment rights and censorship. The goal for the Internet should
not be total freedom for unsavory groups to deliver their message to whomever they can, but a
balance between the freedom of those who want this material and the freedom of those who
do not.
When President Clinton signed the Communication Decency Act into law on February
8, 1996, he effectively approved the largest alteration of national communication laws in 62
years. In order to elicit a response from web creators who published ?indecent? sites, the bill
instituted criminal penalties. However, the emphasis in the bill was on ?decency? and not
?obscenity?- which had long been established as the method to determine what was
supported by the first amendment and what was not. The CDA was eventually overthrown in
Reno vs. ACLU because of the unconstitutionality vague wording and the noted importance in
keeping the Internet a hospital arena for free expression and speech. In 1998, another piece
of legislation was approved called the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, that is
considered less stringent than the Communication Decency Act, but is currently undergoing
the same analysis of its adherence to the Constitution by the ACLU.
Even if the Child Online Protection Act managed to pass the court's high standards,
there exists no way for a national piece of legislation to control an international network. The
Internet is massive and chaotic in nature since it is technologically infesible for any one group
to own or organize it. According to latest estimates, more than 40 percent of US households
own a computer and 90 million adults use the Internet regularly (?Cyber Eyes?). Users can
access the are many wonders of the online world like email, gopher sites, IRC (Internet Relay
Chat) channels, newsgroups, and web pages. The idea that censorship could restrict this
freedom, a trademark characteristic of the Internet, would altogether defeat the purpose of it.
Once a person places information on a Web page or bulletin board, there is little
control over, or knowledge of, who gains access to it. The government has no right infringing
on the rights and freedoms of adult individuals in order to make the Internet ?safe? for
children. The hallmark of a democratic society is allowing a variety of ideas and information
to be accessible to its citizens. If that means allowing hate groups to post a site on the
Internet, then so be it. Journalist Howard Rheingold predicts that Heavy-handed attempts to
impose restrictions on the unruly but incredibly creative anarchy of the Net could kill the
spirit of cooperative knowledge-sharing that makes the Net valuable to millions (Rheingold
n.p.). Perhaps the reason why government censorship is so attractive is because some people
are not willing to learn about the Internet and take the initiative to seek alternatives that better
suit their needs. Blatant laziness should not excuse the right of government to interfere in
people's lives and repress certain individual liberties that are sacred.
Internet users treasure their Constitutional rights and the idea that the Internet is
another instrument by which to express their freedom of speech. And, while it is true that the
Internet poses some very real dangers to children, those dangers must be addressed in a
meaningful manner; blind censorship will simply not do the job. The presence of
pornography and other distasteful sites are relative to the overall size and uses of the Internet.
Some argue that there is no amount of censorship or filtering available that will altogether
restrict access to questionable material. Children are bound to learn about the less positive
aspects of the world one way or the another, either through friends, the media, or in countless
other ways. No, allowing the government to censor indecent material will