The Internet Ä a loosely linked worldwide computer network Ä has exploded in popularity over the past five years. What was once the domain of a few on the cutting edge has been opened up to everyone from college students to grandmothers. With a few keystrokes, anyone can voice their two cents on an issue and send it around the world. There are few forums as democratic as the Internet.
But the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's enthusiastic approval of "The Communications Decency Act of 1995" threatens the free-flow of information on the Internet. The measure, which is attached to a larger communications bill, would make it a criminal offense to transmit material that is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent." Anyone found guilty could be sentenced to up to two years in jail and pay a $100,000 fine.
From a practical perspective, the proposed act is ridiculous. The Internet is a global network and even if there is a national ban of cyberspace smut, it can still be picked up from other countries. The sheer amount of time and money to enforce such a measure would be enormous. To what extent would a company that operates a electronic bulletin board be held responsible for the thoughts broadcasted by their users?
If the government did clamp down on the Internet, users would be constantly wondering how much Big Brother was watching them. Not only is the proposed act censorship by the government, but it could also lead to Internet users censoring themselves. Government intervention in into citizen's conversations and thoughts must not be taken lightly. The act would not pass constitutional muster, but it is alarming to see it get this far.
The current regulations placed on the Internet are adequate and also fall under the parameters of the Constitution. People promoting child pornography on the Internet are subjected to the same criminal prosecution as if they were selling their wares on a street corner. In several states, people can get arrested for stalking others via computer messages. The laws are there now.
The author of the act, Sen. Jim Exon, D-Neb., said he wrote the legislation because he was "concerned with kids being able to pull up pornography on their machines." His worries are legitimate, but attempting to erase anything which could be deemed "filthy" would ultimately infringe on the rights of others. Many on-line services are beginning to put warnings on their bulletin boards if the viewers may be exposed to adult material. Parents need to be vigilant about what Internet groups their children may be members of.
There are other solutions. Censorship is never a solution.
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