Renaissance Online Magaizne Bytes and Picas

FEBRUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 2



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MARC CIAMPA, a native of Alberta, Canada, is the staff sports writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.


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SEX WARS: PORNOGRAPHIC CENSORSHIP
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If all the mentioned measures are successful in protecting children from viewing pornographic material without actually censoring the material itself, this leaves one final medium: the Internet. The Internet is arguably the most difficult medium to control without censoring. The control of material on the Internet -- in this case pornography -- is not only difficult to achieve, it violates both the United States Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although the Internet spans the globe, covering most every country, close to 70% of the Internet's content comes from either the United States or Canada. Also, the United States boasts the distinction of having the highest percentage of its population declared as Internet users at 23% according to USA Today statistics.

Section 2 of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, which states that all Canadians should be granted the "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication" invalidates any role the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission has in content regulation. In addition, the CRTC has no jurisdiction over the global Internet and no authority to enforce any type of content that may be appearing on it. The CRTC concluded this themselves during the New Media Forum that took place in November 1998.

The United States, by contrast, made a bold attempt to regulate the Internet by devising the Communications Decency Act. The CDA, as it was known, made it illegal to "knowingly transmit or make available, by means of telecommunication device or interactive computer service, obscene or indecent communications to a person under the age of 18." If it was violated, there would be a fine of up to $100,000 as well as a prison term for up to two years. The bill went to the United States Supreme Court, however, citing the fact that it was "an impermissable violation of the First Amendment."

Judge Reed of the United States Supreme Court found that the Act was unconstitutional and stated that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech." Although there is no complete consensus on the issue, most courts and commentators theorize that the importance of protecting freedom of speech is to foster the marketplace of ideas. If speech, even unconventional speech that some find lacking in substance or offensive, is allowed to compete unrestricted in the marketplace of ideas, truth will be discovered. Indeed, the First Amendment was designed to prevent the majority, through acts of Congress, from silencing those who would express unpopular or unconventional views.

Even if the United States government was successful in passing the CDA, they would have been faced with the extraordinary task of regulating the vast universe that is the Internet. The Internet exists in just about every country and any laws put forth in one country may not apply in another. Because of the nature of the Internet, something that is illegal in the United States might not be allowed to be placed on an American server, but it could be placed on one from Holland, for instance. Regardless of whether the material is placed on an American or Dutch server suddenly becomes irrelevant because the material can be downloaded to a home in Kansas City, Albuqurque, Edmonton or anywhere else in the world. Microsoft owner and billionaire Bill Gates, who would arguably have the power to censor something out of the Internet if anybody could, believes that regulating the Internet is an incredible task if not impossible.

Some critics have suggested that communications companies be made gatekeepers, charged with filtering the content of what they carry. This idea would put companies in the business of censoring all communication. It's entirely unworkable, for one thing because the volume of communicated information is way too large. This idea is no more feasible or desirable than asking a telephone company to monitor and accept legal responsibility for everything that's spoken or transmitted on its telephone wires, according to Gates in his book Road Ahead.

Instead of relying on the Internet to regulate and censor itself which, as was established, is both an extremely difficult task and unconstitutional, a better plan would be to institute protection at home relating to our own tastes and values. Such products to help us implement these measures already exist such as SurfWatch.

For these reasons, pornography should not be subject to censorship. Only in the cases where the subject appears to be unwilling or underage should actions be taken to prevent both the production and distribution of the material. Many disagree with the idea of pornography, but they should admit that the producer has the right to make the material and the consumer has the right to view it.

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