Freedom of Bytes
In today s era there exists a medium, which like never before is becoming a medium of communication and interaction between humans, namely the World Wide Web. This old but yet new medium is expanding and changing rapidly, thus making it close to impossible to control.
The World Wide Web is offering more to society now than it ever has before, created by the army to keep up communications during crisis, it s importance to the army has also transcended into regular society. The internet is offering commerce, entertainment, and most important easy and fast access to information about anything and everything possibly conceivable by humans. Through the computer people are now literally a few mouse clicks away from buying anything from cars to toothbrushes, clicks away from entering a chatroom and conversing with fellow Netizens , and few clicks away from databases, essays, articles, and multimedia presentations on any entity whatsoever.
For the same reasons that the World Wide Web is so valuable and popular, it is also bad and dangerous. You might be able to shop around for an airplane ticket and might decide to buy one over the internet, yet the minute you type in your credit card number you attract people in finding that number and using it without your consent. You might be amazed at how easy and helpful sending e-mails is, yet it is also easy for someone to send you unsolicited information, which you might not be interested in and in some instances you might even have objections to it.
Since the internet is so easy, accessible and essentially unregulated, it leaves room for many controversies about the web, including electronic commerce, credit card fraud, invasion of privacy and more. By far though the most controversial and talked about problem is pornography on the web. Imagine the previous example of receiving unwanted e-mail imagine you suddenly get sent nude pictures of people and links which invite you to more of what they have already shown, take for example the fact that someone might use your credit card to subscribe to sites which offer pornography, and think about your son, daughter or even yourself being on a site about a music band you like and you accidentally click a link and before you now it you are being subjected to hard core pornography.
It just became apparent that pornography on the net not only encompasses controversies about pornography itself, but also all the other controversies and problems the internet already has. Sex has always been something which has intrigued people, and that is probably in essence how pornography became to be. As society developed in the 21st Century red-light districts flourished which centralized anything which had to do with sex in one geographic location. As sex and pornography became a more and more pertinent issue, the supreme court ruled in 1976 that cities could use their zoning powers to keep out sex-oriented businesses, and that more or less was the end of red-light districts in America. Nowadays with the Internet coming along as a more widespread medium the issue of pornography resurfaces and along with it, it carries many other disputes.
One of the main controversies about pornography on the web is if it should be permitted in first place, since it is morally wrong to some people, and because it allows adolescents to access pornography, both willingly and unwillingly. Since there are no specific laws for the internet, a simple disclaimer is the only barrier between a user and X-rated material, in addition some pornographic sites have addresses which are similar to popular sites, such as www.whitehouse.gov (the real site) and www.whitehouse.com (the porn site), causing people to be lured to their sites through a simple misunderstanding or even a minute typing error.
Before one can come to a consensus about what is right, there has to be found a way to enforce any laws, which would be written for the Internet. This aspect is so critical, because otherwise any laws would be in vain. If for example the US government were to prohibit all material about flowers on the web, the law would be useless since someone in
the US could access such content from Holland for example, therefore unless Holland agrees with the US on its internet laws there would be no way to enforce any laws regarding the world wide web.
Once the ambiguities on how to enforce Internet laws have been cleared, the laws have to be written, thus in the case of pornography one has to come to a consensus about what is right and what to do. It is this aspect which causes the headaches, because when it comes to the Internet all rules change, especially when it comes to pornography on the Internet. It is discussed in the L.A. Times, how laws are written for governments which are restricted to territory, whereas territory is not defined in Cyberspace and thus Law becomes irrelevant as Lawrence Lessig, a law professor ant the University of Chicago states, and governments become undefined (3).
The controversy about pornography on the web incorporates both moral and freedom-of-speech controversies, which are both very ambivalent since they deal with feelings. For instance someone who is against pornography in real life is bound to be against pornography on the web, on the other hand someone who might be an advocate of freedom of speech might be for pornography in real life, but against it on the web since his children are able to see it. Consequently a double standard is created which causes even more problems.
One party such as a leader of a anti-pornography group called Enough is Enough, say that pornography has to be banned on the internet because there is too great of a risk that children can be exposed to pornography And once they have seen it, it can never be erased from their minds. (1). Others call it the first free speech case of the 21st century
and think that by restricting pornography on the net The future of the Internet is at stake as Jerry Berman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, states (1).
Maybe the issue shouldn t be so black and white, maybe a compromise should be reached which neither permits nor prohibits pornography on the web, rather how access to pornography can be monitored and restricted. In that case the advocate of freedom of speech would be satisfied because it is not absolutely prohibited, and the moral advocate would be appeased because he doesn t have to worry about people watching pornography unwillingly.
A solution has to be found in which pornography can be restricted as long as the solution doesn t walk over freedom of choice and speech (3). The Communications Decency Act, which called for a constraint on indecent material on the web. The CDA asked that companies only expose indecent material to people who are able to establish that they are 18 or older, by a credit card number for example. The CDA would have been a good solution, since it would regulate pornography just like tobacco and alcohol are confined to adults in the real world. It was declared unconstitutional though because indecent wasn t defined well enough, and because it conflicted with the 1st Amendment. The CDA is a prime example of the difficulties in passing legislature for pornography on the Internet.
How one can achieve the goal of monitoring and restricting access to X-rated material on the web is a difficulty in it s own, but it surely will cause less headaches and ambiguities than arguing about what is right and what is wrong will. And most important of all it will keep the focus on the problem and how to solve it rather than Russian roulette with human feelings.