Current Free Speech Doctrine: Will It Work On The Internet?

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The Internet offers a much greater potential for interactive communication between information senders and receivers than the more traditional methods of communication such as newspaper, radio and television. Freedom of speech ascertained by the constitution is not an absolute right. Depending on the medium through which information is delivered various degrees of the freedom to express one's self is protected. Internet communication may be analogous to either a specific existing communication medium or even several. Current free speech protection begins to dissipate as it is applied to the uncertain confines of the newly developed Cyberspace. The traditionalist approach to free speech protection is centered on core values and yields results that are basically neutral so that content allowed through one communication medium is permissible in all media.Freedom of speech and of the press is a basic tenant of United States constitutional law. Perhaps concern for the English use of prior restraint (licensing of press) and seditious libel was the reason for including the first amendment in our bill of rights. When the first amendment became law the printed page was the most widely used non-verbal medium of speech. Speech, as we understand it, involves more than verbal communication. Speecht includes pictures, movies, radio, television and expressive conduct [Shelton v. Tucker, 364 US 479 (1960)]. As technology advanced and additional communication medium developed, speech was given various levels of first amendment protection depending on the medium through which the information was delivered.Cyberspace is a network of computer systems permitting literally millions of people to communicate with one another on an hourly basis. Cyberspace may mirror other types of communication medium singularly or several at one time. Current free speech protection approaches break down when applied to Cyberspace since one may prohibit speech when delivered by one medium but permit identical speech delivered via a different medium. A core values approach protects identical speech regardless of the medium in which it is delivered. So it is a foundation for Cyberspace and promotes development of new technology. That, "Congress shall make no law..., or abridging the freedom of speech", suggests an absolute right to speak. Justice Black dissenting in Konigsberg felt that freedom of speech was absolute [Konigsberg v. State Bar of California, 366 US 36 (1961)]. Justice Harlan writing for the majority rejected an absolute right, noting that protected freedom of speech was less than an unlimited license to talk.

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