Privacy and the On-Line Den Mothers

This page is black in protest of the passing of the "Telecommunications Decency Act"

Posted 11/20/95

Are we willing to accept a "Brave New World?"

Uncle John's Answer:

The growing number of "cyber-citizens" has triggered a debate that pervades both traditional and electronic media. The viewpoints expressed are fairly polarized into two opposing ideas. One camp claims that the internet is far too wild and wooly for innocent children and sensitive adults, with tremendous volumes of graphic sexual and grotesque content. The other opinion is that the first amendment rules over all, and that anything goes on-line. The fact is, they are both right. The problem is that the first group is dead set on forcing some sort of regulatory control on the internet that would make distribution of "offensive" material illegal. The arguments against this are today's focus.

For one thing, it is essentially unworkable beca, it is essentially unworkable because the internet is Global. The greater population of the world is not bound to respect the (supposed) collective morality of the US. Short of cutting this country off from the rest of the net, we cannot stop American access to someone's site in Japan advertising erotic CD-ROM's and videos on the Web. Of course this will not stop the lawmakers from drawing up such legislation and even passing it. Actually enforcing such laws is a task suited only to an organization crafted from a bundling of the CIA (for gathering intelligence on the network) and the DEA or BATF (to leverage their time proven search and seizure experience). Can we afford that kind of activity from either a financial or civil rights standpoint? It has already been proven in a long term field experiment that we cannot prevent the illegal importation of drugs; how can we possibly expect to curtail certain packets of digital information? Will such a ban create another black market that will drain a disproportionate number of resources (both dollars and freedoms) into a huge bottomless sinkhole? Yep, I believe so.

Regarding the morality issue, censoring a medium is a popular idea with those who feel they have a mission to save their fellow man from his own misguided hedonism. Usually this is done "for the sake of the children."  But not their children, your children. And what normal, well adjusted human wouldusted human would dream of allowing innocent youngsters to be adversely affected by some hideous information if there could be a simple ban of some idea or image that could throw an insulating barrier between the child and the offending material? When they throw up the "for the kiddies" flag, it is political suicide to burn it. Unfortunately, censorship at a general level affects not only children, but adults as well. I remember the cable wars in the '70s in Virginia Beach, VA, where our own home town boy Pat Robertson succeeded in forcing Cox Cable to remove the Playboy Channel from it's channel offerings. The reasoning was that some unfortunate child would witness the terrible filth of two humans enjoying (I know, they were being paid to look like they were) the shameless act of copulation without any thought of creating life. Shocking, eh? Never mind that the programming in question was available only by special subscription for additional cost. And the people paying for this were the adults in the household (Ok, well if a child was earning enough to pay for his own cable connection and paying the bill on time, then my argument falls apart. But I surmise this is a wild data point not worthy of consideration) and by definition fully capable of deciding that they wanted to view this "filth." They were overruled by the managers of the cable company who could not fight for something that was "bahat was "bad for the children."

Compare this scenario with the World Wide Web and other internet data sources. Again, to gain access to any information, one must request it. No one can force your finger down on the mouse button when the cursor is on the link to Sexy Sally's Smut Suaree. Now if you were simply reading over the shoulder of your friendly little tyke, he or she should not have been allowed to click that link. That is my point. The sole responsibility of protecting the children lies with the parents who love them. End of story. We don't need Senator Exon and Jesse Helms or Pat Robertson to hold our hands and control our viewing habits. Until we are adults, that job is for our parents to perform.

In all honesty, I'm sure that is not the root of the censorship crusade. It is the press release given by those who would control. The basic reason for these attempts at regulation is just that- Control. If these people succeed in banning some material as "offensive", it is a small step for them to pursue bans on any other material. Why would they want to do that, you ask? Because the thought of a widely propagated forum for the free exchange of ideas, one which they do not understand, don't have the know how to access, and that may allow material to spread in it's raw, untouched by "spin doctors", form scares the bejeebers out of them. The relig of them. The religious right does not want anti-religious thought to be available to all. Politicians don't want voters to know the real story about that screwed up land deal they profited illegally from. The traditional media doesn't want any information to circulate which their editors cannot slant toward advancement of their own agendas. And of course the administration does not want anti-government sentiment to be passed at the speed of the net to anyone who has the means and desire to read it. (In this vein, I plan an essay on strong data encryption for the public soon, Stay tuned!)

So, what are the options? How can we protect sensitive people and yet retain our rights as free Americans? First, write, call, fax, e-mail or visit your representatives and tell them to keep the net free. Tell them you can make decisions for yourself and for your dependants. Tell them you resent the obligation of your tax dollars for the purpose of denying you access to materials of your choosing. And remind them that you vote. (You do, right?) That is what they understand. Even if they wouldn't know a gopher if it crawled up their browser, they know that angry voters put them back in the real world and away from the cocktail parties on the Hill.

Next, if you feel the need to have a shield in front of your young cybernaut, spring the $50 for "surfwatch" or similar electronic filters that are becominrs that are becoming available for blocking access to gruesome stuff. Take the responsibility and don't push it up to Washington.

And last, but by no means least, spread the word to your friends that there are better methods than bans and censorship to limit access to the net. It is particularly important if they are not on-line, since they probably don't understand as well as you just how this "net thing" works, and may be tempted to believe the control freaks. After all, who is against protecting the children?

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 by John M. Meyer. All rights reserved. The Alien Mind is not associated with any earthly company or its products.

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