Internet Censorship in America:
Censorship of information on the Internet has become a controversial topic that has generated huge debates, especially on whether it’s a necessity for the maintenance of a particular ethical standard. While there is no single answer to the question on Internet censorship in America, the issue has been confronted and is being addressed. The censorship of information on the Internet has grown to become a major issue because of the fact that the Internet has extended people’s abilities to access information across the globe. As a result, questions and concerns are being raised on the kind of information that people should have access to, particularly if a standard is established. Issues regarding censorship and the freedom of expression continue to emerge with the daily growth and expansion of the Internet industry. These issues are mainly centered on the available material on the Internet like children’s exposure to pornography that has caused increased controversy. In addition to presenting a literature review, the paper presents the issues, debates, advantages, and disadvantages of Internet censorship in America from various articles written by different authors.
The Development of the Internet:
In a research article by Qazi (par, 5), the development and growth of the Internet is examined as it emerged from packet switching and distributed computer networks that were developed to be secure during periods of wars. The distributed computer systems were designed to be secure because they are less vulnerable to destruction and facilitate the routing of transmissions around the damage. Local area networks could be connected to these networks without interfering with their advantages and without dependence on a single timesharing computer. Today’s Internet was realized as a result of these developments throughout the 1970s and 1980s to promote an informal network of networks that extends in the entire world with approximately 4 million hosts.
The Internet has had significant and huge growth in past few decades to a point that it’s mentioned on a daily basis across many facets of the society. As a result of the massive growth, the use of the Internet has expanded rapidly and will continue to grow in the future. In the United States, the massive use of the Internet is evident from the fact that over 10 million Americans access the Internet from computers in their homes.
The main reason for the extended use of the Internet is attributed to the numerous changes it has brought to the world. Some of these changes include its facilitation of easy research activities, enhanced communication across the globe, and transformation of people’s shopping activities. The Internet has actually become more mainstream and adopted by the society since it helps in maintaining connectedness between people in various parts of the world (“The Internet Censorship Debate” par, 2). These revolutions are regardless of the fact that the Internet has made it easier for individuals to access inappropriate material.
History of Internet Censorship in America:
While the recent proposals for censoring information on the Internet has generated sharp controversies, Internet censorship in the United States is not new. Throughout the years, the United States government has usually tried to regulate new technology whenever it emerges. For example, the government attempted to regulate telephone companies in the case of the U.S. Postal Service literature in both public libraries and schools. This initiative resulted in the enactment of legislations that prohibited the sending of any obscene or inappropriate material through the United States mail.
The bans marked the beginning of censorship that has now extended to proposals of censoring information on the Internet based on several issues and reasons. Internet censorship in the United States didn’t happen overnight but slowly came to the country after tests in the Middle East and China. The other aspect that led to the proposals for censoring information on the Internet was the extension of an improved Patriot Act by the Congress in 2005 that permitted the government to clamp its controls on the web.
Main Issues Regarding Internet Censorship:
As the Internet has developed to become deeply rooted in the lives of many people across the United States, the most common assumption is that it’s immune to change. Even though there are no guarantees that it will continue to remain a free and open medium, people tend to think that it will remain so. Since the Internet is a human institution managed by actual people and businesses, it’s not fixed and unchanging just like many human institutions. This is largely because the history of the Internet has been characterized by continual changes in its core architecture and several court decisions.
As a result of its vulnerability to change, Internet use or access has continued to face several issues, especially in relation to censorship. Regardless of the assumption that Internet use is static and unchanging, there have been various attempts to censor information that people can access on the Internet in the United States. Some examples of regulations that govern Internet access in America include network neutrality rules by the American Civil Liberties Union. The American government has made various attempts to gain more control on the use of the Internet as various companies have established new technological infrastructures to control Internet use. Generally, Internet censorship in the United States has encountered several major issues including the following:
Concerns Regarding Freedom of Expression:
Stanley (p. 2) argues that the freedom of expression is one of the major issues surrounding censorship on the web since the Internet is one of the basic places where Americans exercise this constitutional right of expression. The Internet acts like an entertainment medium, newspaper, debating platform, and reference work that promotes the free expression of ideas and information. The centrality of freedom of expression is evident from the fact that many Internet censorship cases in the Supreme Court have been decided on the basis of protection of the rights to free expression.
Qazi (par, 13) agrees that freedom of speech or expression is a major issue when addressing Internet censorship in America. The First Amendment to the Constitution enforces the freedom of speech and prevents the U.S. Congress from enacting legislations to the contrary. However, various generations in the American history have re-interpreted and redefined this amendment making the freedom of speech not to be an absolute. Consequently, there are existing laws in America about national security, obscenity, libel, control of electronic mass communication, and access to governmental information.
Therefore, due to the numerous changes that redefined the First Amendment, America has continued to encounter enormous challenges to restore the conventional freedom of speech and information diversity. The reason for the freedom of expression being a major issue regarding Internet censorship is the fact that free speech incorporates the use of the web in expressing several ideas within America and the rest of the world.
Access to Inappropriate Materials:
While the Internet provides huge opportunities for global access to local culture, the other major issue surrounding Internet censorship is concern regarding controversial or inappropriate ideas and images on the Internet (Schrader par, 1). Actually, accesses to inappropriate materials have contributed to technological and political difficulties to open internet access. Internet censorship in the United States has been supported in various quarters on the basis that it could help in restricting access to such ideas and images.
Debates on Internet Censorship in America:
As previously mentioned, Internet censorship in the United States has developed to become a topic of huge controversy and debates. The debates have mainly involved proponents and opponents who argue on differing opinions including & #8230;
Criminalization of Internet Activities:
As reported by the Huffington Post, legislation that promotes censoring of information on the Internet has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans on the basis that it could criminalize many activities on the Internet (Carter & Grim par, 1). Internet censorship has been supported in America because it will hugely contribute to the establishment of new powers for companies to fight piracy of copyrighted materials. The main Internet censorship bill that promotes such efforts is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, which will help in safeguarding companies from the theft of American intellectual property.
While such attempts will have minimal impact on major Internet industry players, life on the Internet will be very difficult for small companies. The other key aspect is that this Internet censorship bill will change the relationship between the fundamental architecture of the Internet and the government. it’s possible that the government through the Department of Justice could use the legislation to conduct domain name system filtering for disgruntled copyright holders and even block an entire website in attempts to prevent piracy.
Lessening of Job Opportunities and Innovation:
Increased attempts by the United States government to expand Internet censorship could make it difficult for new entrepreneurs within the Internet industry to develop into major industry players like Google. Dickinson (par, 2) states that Internet entrepreneurs have conveyed their concerns that Internet censorship could cripple innovation and have expressed their opposition to such legislations. Internet censorship could also result in job losses since a court order may compel online search engines in America to block results or domain names. This could contribute to the instant death of some companies, particularly those with limited resources to fight potential legal cases.
In addition, concerns have also been raised regarding the possibility of Internet censorship to weaken the protection provided by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that supported the growth of major technological companies.
Fundamental Changes to the Current Internet:
The opponents of Internet censorship have stated that such measures could contribute to fundamental changes on the current architecture of the Internet. While various legislations have been proposed to help in the fight against online piracy, which is a major problem, such regulations could grant unnecessary and random censorship powers to content owners. These could result in huge fundamental changes to the Internet’s architecture as its known today. Furthermore, efforts towards Internet censorship in America are opposed because some of them have serious ramifications on the First Amendment.
Tackling Access to Inappropriate Materials:
Internet censorship is hugely supported as an attempt to tackle the access to inappropriate materials especially with the rising demand of cyber-porn, which is a major controversial topic in cyberspace. Through censorship, the Internet or cyberspace will no longer be utilized as a medium to corrupt the society by immoral, unethical, and extremist individuals. As the increased and easy access to inappropriate ideas and images has become a topic of key concerns, internet censorship is regarded as the suitable means for tackling the problem.
Advantages of Internet Censorship:
Several progressive groups have stated that Internet censorship is justifiable to a certain extent though the government should ensure that it doesn’t interfere with the freedom of press or contribute to repression of its users. Some of the major advantages that have been analyzed regarding such a move include & #8230;
Regulations of Serious Societal Implications:
Proponents of this concept have often stated that censoring this medium of mass media is necessary in order to regulate serious societal implications emanating from its use. They argue that without such boundaries, it will be easier for people to send racial comments or obscene materials across the nation and the globe. Therefore, censoring the Internet will help in ensuring that such activities can be traced and dealt with to avoid serious implications on the society (Naik par, 4).
Actually, the main issue underlying Internet censorship is the prevalence of international problems such as racial hatred and the protection of children from trafficking and pornography. Therefore, there is a great need to adopt a global solution to the problems through co-operation and treaties. Internet censorship is one of the major ways with which such problems can be addressed since it will help in tracing where such problems originate from either in speech or words.
Reduced Criminal Activities:
With the emergence of cyber-terrorism and criminal activities on the Internet, it’s necessary to implement a mechanism that could help in the identification and mitigation of such activities to prevent harm to the society. Internet censorship provides a platform with which Internet crimes can be reduced through tracing individuals engaged in such activities. Without tracing or tracking of these people, it will be easy for them to resort to various criminal activities that cause harm to many people.
Fair Treatment with other Mediums of Mass Media:
Generally, censorship is usually designed based on the power of the medium to be censored. For instance, films, video, and television are subjected to higher censorship than newspapers and books because the movement of pictures and sound is more powerful and graphical than that of text, illustrations, and photographs. Videos are normally subjected to higher levels of censorship because of its viewers are captive audiences and can view the content again and distribute it more widely. Internet censorship provides a basis for fair treatment in regulation of the mass media since it has become a huge store of video and sound. As a result of its huge storage of sound and video content, the Internet should be subjected to same level of regulations and power (Butt par, 3).
Elimination of Copyright Violation:
As one of the fundamental issues regarding Internet censorship, regulation of the use and access of the Internet has the advantage of eliminating the violation of copyright and sale of pirated contents like movies. Many companies across the globe have continued to lose huge amounts of money because of copyright infringement and piracy on the Internet. Through Internet censorship, these companies will no longer lose huge amounts as it will tackle copyright infringement and sale of pirated items.
Disadvantages of Internet Censorship:
Several analyses on the concept of Internet censorship have usually focused on both the positive and negative aspects of such a regulation. Some of the main disadvantages of Internet censorship include & #8230;
There is a general prevailing notion that Internet censorship is more or less impossible, which is one of its major disadvantages. This is largely because governments can only regulate what is produced within the specific country as it’s impossible to regulate materials from other parts of the world. Concerns are raised as to why America is eliminating all local reference to hardcore pornography while it’s possible to access similar materials from other countries like Sweden and the United Kingdom. The other measure that makes it impossible for Internet censorship is the possibility for citizens to produce various materials and store them in foreign domains (Samantha par, 7).
Violation of Internet Privacy and Freedom of Speech:
The second major disadvantage or issue that has been raised in opposition to Internet censorship is the fact that it’s an obvious infringement of the freedom of expression and Internet privacy. it’s stated that Internet censorship could provide the platform with which authoritative administration could curb the effectiveness of this medium of mass media. Through censorship, individuals will find it difficult to freely express their ideas to other people on the Internet.
Likely Increase in Taxation:
Internet censorship is likely to result in increase in taxation that could be a huge burden to many taxpayers. This is likely to occur as the government will increase its spending to deal with new developments of Internet technology that keep changing from time to time. As a result of such efforts, taxpayers will be required to pay more funds to guarantee its effectiveness.
The distinction between Internet censorship and that of the print and broadcast media is becoming more irrelevant. The print media is currently moderately unregulated because it’s considered as the basic means of transmitting information to the society. Moreover, it’s possible that the Internet will be totally relied upon for entertainment and news in the next ten years. Therefore, regulating or censoring the Internet will hugely affect its ability for transmitting news, information, and entertainment.
Should the American Government Engage in Internet Censorship?
The decision on whether the United States government should be engaged in Internet censorship requires the consideration of the various issues, debates, advantages, and disadvantages of such regulations. As stated by Naik (par, 6), the analysis of the merits and demerits of regulation of the Internet shows that censorship can be beneficial if used appropriately and damaging when misused. This is largely because its advantages reveal that such regulations are urgently needed whereas its disadvantages show that it doesn’t have a place in democracy. Hodder and Stoughton (par, 34) in their assessment of whether the Internet should be censored stated that there is a genuine need for regulation, particularly in relation to illegal and inappropriate content. In contrast, they also stated that such a move requires adequate measures regarding the concerns on the freedom of expression.
While internet censorship is not new in the United States, the concept generated huge debates and controversies due to the development of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the past few months. As revealed in the review, there are various issues and debates that have surrounded the controversies associated with such regulation. One the question on whether the American government should censor the Internet, it’s important to critically evaluate its benefits and tackle the emerging disadvantages of the regulation.
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