Censorship and the Internet

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The foundations of America and of its citizens' individuality were built over 200 years ago with the creation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment, ratified December 15th 1791, is probably the most important Amendment as well as the most difficult one to interpret. It states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" (National Archive Constitution Ammentment#1). Thus, this Amendment grants Americans specific inalienable rights and allows them to be at least somewhat separate from the government. Still, it is this Amendment that is under particular scrutiny in today's information age. It is through the interpretation of this statement that we must assess the rights of the Internet surfer, determine what responsibility the government has to censor any or all explicit pages from innocent under aged children and evaluate if that censorship violates our inalienable rights as American citizens. Yet, no matter what censorship rulings the government passes, the responsibility of monitoring Internet use must ultimately fall in the hands of the parents. Just a week ago (April 5th 1999), The Justice Department appealed an Anti-Censorship ruling made by the Federal Judge, Lowell Reed, of Pennsylvania. Reed had the opportunity to evaluate and rule upon the Children's Online Protection Act (COPA), Congress' second attempt to regulate content on the Internet1. Judge Reed rejected this act on grounds that it was in direct violation of the first Amendment. He argued that "the first Amendment was designed to prevent the majority, through acts of the Congress, from silencing those who would express unpopular or unconventional views" (speech1). Reed continued to demonstrate that before the widespread use of the Internet the ability of a person to express his or her views to a large group of people was limited by " the costs [of] reaching the masses" (Reed Text 1). Before the Internet, people who wanted to express their ideas had to pay great amounts of money for advertisements and propaganda to promote their views. It was very difficult for an individual, especially one without a lot of money, to get his or her ideas out to the public - the Internet allows the individual to do so in an inexpensive way.

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