The Denver Post
Censoring Internet is indecentFebruary 22, 1996
Section: Denver & The West
On Feb. 8, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of
1996 into law. The law's primary effect will be to stir the
businesses of cable television, telephone service and the Internet
into one huge competitive soup to spark competition. Just as
long-distance phone companies compete for your business today, so
too will cable operators, regional phone companies and Internet
access providers in the near future.
However, this bill
contained another, less-publicized element that could conceivably
have far greater effect, a rider called the "Communications Decency
Act," which will ban "indecency" on the Internet. Not "pornography,"
not "obscenity" but "indecency." Indecency, as a legal standard, is
frighteningly broad. For example, it could be argued the phrase "The
U.S. Congress is a den of prostitutes turning legislative tricks for
PAC money" is indecent. The religious right, glowing over the
passage of this bill, plans to use it to ban the very discussion of
abortion on the Internet.
This legislation is appalling,
pathetic and insulting. It threatens to cripple the Internet by
robbing it of the very thing that makes it viable: the free flow of
When it comes to the Internet, the government has
shown time again that it just doesn't get it. The Clinton
administration's "clipper chip" fiasco made it the laughing stock of
the networking community. The U.S. government's criminalization of
cryptography expert Phil "The Weasel" Zimmerman ran out of steam for
lack of common sense. The White House's current white paper on the
enforcement of copyrights on the 'Net threatens to make forwarding
an e-mailed knock-knock joke of the week to your co-worker a federal
crime. The Communications Decency Act follows the proud federal
tradition of government-cocooned know-nothings attempting to
legislate what they do not even vaguely understand.
startling implications of the act come to light, the movement to
repeal the measure is gaining ground. Wired magazine deserves credit
for its coverage of this latest fiasco from the Fat Boys in the
Capitol. The ACLU, at long last picking a relevant battle, has
teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file suit
against the act in federal court.
The Internet, ironically
enough, was founded by the government as a military communications
network, later becoming a means for scientists and engineers to
share information. It since has grown beyond anyone's wildest
expectations. What was originally conceived as an electronic outpost
beholden to the state evolved into a virtual village, then a virtual
colony, then a full-fledged virtual nation. The Internet now
transcends every border in the world and has evolved into a dynamic,
powerful society with its own culture, its own dialect and its own
With the Communications Decency Act, the
U.S. government has made it clear that it intends to quash the
insolent "free exchange of ideas" taking place within its former
colony. The U.S. government, however, like the British government
200 years ago, is seriously underestimating its foe. The Internet, a
worldwide medium, is bigger than the U.S. government. The Internet,
a decentralized structure famous for its ability to "interpret
censorship as damage and route around it," is faster than the U.S.
government. The Internet - built, maintained and led by the world's
most savvy, skilled and visionary individuals - is smarter than the
U.S. government. The Internet is too inspiring, too amazing to be
left in the hands of such blustering, ignorant
Anyone who's wandered the Internet's wide-open
electronic spaces and taken part in the exhilarating free flow of
information understands what is at stake. We must now defend what
we've worked so hard to build. It's time to prepare to interpret the
government as damage and route around it.
Bjordahl is editor of the Internet publication Zone Interactive
and co-creator of the Cafe Angst comic strip, which runs in the
Sunday Denver Post.
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