Censorship: Freedom of Speech & Content
"The voice of reason knows that free speech doesn't equate to
sexual harassment, abuse of children, or the breeding of hatred or
The CDA, Communications Decency Amendment to the 1996 Telecommunications Act
[CDA], is an amendment which was
created and voted in recently in America. It was very shortly thereafter
overturned in a case brought by organisations supporting freedom of speech,
including the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
[EFF]. It was found to be
unconstitutional by a three judge panel in the US federal court in
Philadelphia. "(The) Internet may fairly be regarded as a never-ending
world-wide conversation. The government may not, through the CDA, interrupt
that conversation," according to the three judge panel, in their ruling on
the CDA [ITC_J17].
It contained some sensible restrictions enforcing laws on copyright theft
and distribution and possession of child pornography, however, these were
grouped together in the CDA with many worrying and unconstitutional
restrictions, such as rules providing latitude, however they were intended,
for law enforcement agencies and the courts to prosecute people for using
swear words online, something which is no crime if not online, and is a
constitutional right covered by freedom of speech in the first ammendment
of the American constitution [EFF_CDA].
It also would have made receiving material
or information about material of an obscene nature a crime.
Several states including New York have proposed CDA copycat bills which
are similarly unconstitutional [ITC_J17], but overturning such
laws in all 50 states is a task which is not looked forward to by groups
upholding freedom of speech in the USA.
The UK's approach to Internet censorship is said to be "...a characteristically
British approach to the issue of Internet regulation, being somewhat more
gentlemanly in its approach than some of the more draconian rules imposed by
other governments around the world." [DTC_O1]. It involves self-regulation,
ratings and classification, and crackdown on illegal materials. Unique is its
approach in neither creating new laws nor implementing any technological
blocks. R3/Safety Net is the proposal to control illegal material in the UK.
R3 stands for Rating, Reporting and Responsibility.
The UK has managed to unite service providers, government, and police in a common
goal. This is probably the most successful attempt in this direction that has
been made regarding the Internet.
- Demon Internet provide the rating
element, classifying newsgroups, and thus allowing parents, given
appropriate software, to deny access to types of newsgroups which they
- The reporting element involves a hotline to which members of the public can
report the presence of child pornography.
- Finally, if possible, the responsible party who posted the material will be
found and prosecuted.
Other European Countries
The methods of the Netherlands and Belgium are said to be closest to those
of the UK. France and Germany's methods have been much more hard-line.
CompuServe in Germany was forced to
remove 200 newsgroups from its service at the end of last year (1995) because
of their containing material illegal in Germany. The government has since set
up a regulatory agency, the Internet Content Task Force (ICTF), and has also
passed a law requiring ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to build in 'back
doors' so that state officials can read users' private e-mail if necessary for
law enforcement. ISPs were also told to put a block on access to the Dutch
site xs4all containing 3100 personal web
pages and commercial pages including the site of Radikal, a left-wing political
magazine banned in Germany.
Many other countries around the world are taking much harsher approaches to the
Internet, including the obvious candidates such as China. Several countries,
including Vietnam, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia require all ISPs to route through
either a central gateway to the Internet, or to use government controlled
proxies for all Internet information access.
Online services such as Prodigy and
America Online (AOL), have been censoring
content on their services for years. The problem with censoring content in
the US is that there is a perception that if you censor content in any way,
you become liable for any disallowed content that slips through the net.
The USA has a concept of a 'common carrier' where telephone companies cannot
be held responsible for transmission of illegal materials across their lines
or, say, a crime being planned by phone. The misconception commonly held is
that 'common carrier' rules apply to any information provision service which
does not censor its content or does not have the ability to censor its
content. In fact, only specific companies, listed by the government, have
'common carrier' status, and it cannot be obtained automatically by actions
In fact, however, the same concepts have been applied to service providers,
and censorship of content has been held as reason to hold them liable for
content; removing the 'common carrier' status they never held. No ISP has
or has ever had 'common carrier' status.
Home Content Filtering
With the passionate objections to such laws as imposed by the non-operational
CDA, software solutions to censorship have appeared on the market. There are
now several products designed to allow parents to limit their children's
access to 'safe' sites and prevent them from wandering into sites containing
pornography or other objectionable material.
This is seen by some as a wonderful pro-active approach to the problem, but
is dismissed by others. Those dismissing the solution claim that any security
measure a parent can impose, a child is more likely to be able to turn off
than they are. It would seem logical that if it is password protected, children
would be unlikely to be able to 'crack' the passwords.
These are some of the programs available which can be used to filter content:
The UK has taken steps in the right direction as