Last October, congress passed and President Clinton signed into law a new “sequel” to the
unconstitutional Communications Decency Act. This new Internet censorship bill, the Child Online
Protection Act or COPA (a.k.a. “CDA II”), would establish criminal penalties for any commercial
distribution of material deemed “harmful to minors”. Although I feel that this law will probably be
overturned like CDA, it shows how determined some politicians are to ignore our constitutional rights to
free speech and impose their own views of whats “indecent” and “harmful to minors” on others.
I believe that the government should have no business imposing these unconstitutional laws. The
laws themselves are way to vague, many avocates of Internet censorship laws are ignorant of what the
Internet really is or how it works, laws like these wouldnt work, and there are many alternatives to
government enforced laws to protect children that would be much less invasive.
The bills for laws aimed at regulating the Internet for the sake of child safety are, in my opinion,
extremely vague and broadsided. They give absolutely no definition of what should be considered
“obscene” or “harmful to minors.” Definitions annexed on to them are extremely broadsided and could not
only ban pornography but also things like information on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,
birth control, breast cancer, certain forms of artwork, and many other things that should never be
considered “obscene.” However Internet censorship laws could potentially make it illegal to publish things
like this on the Internet, and in being so vague, there is plenty of room for abuse of laws like these.
Politicians could misuse these laws to ban things that they personally consider immoral or simply dont
like even if they arent considered “offensive to minors” by most people, abridging our rights to free
speech even further.
Aside from the vagueness of these proposed laws, they could prove impossible to enforce. Many
people who push laws like these are ignorant of how the Internet works or even what the Internet really is.
Most of these people argue that web site content should be regulated like television stations regulate the
content of their programs. However, the Internet is not a television. Unlike television, the Internet is
almost completely baseless, no one company has complete control of whats online as opposed to a
television station. And also unlike television, as well as most other forms of mass-media, its cheap and
easy to run a web site as opposed to a television show or a newspaper, thus rendering anyone with an
Internet connection, the right software and the know-how capable of publishing material on the Internet.
Another thing often overlooked by the Censorship supporters is the fact that the Internet is a worldwide
network. No US law could control the content of foreign web sites any more than that of foreign television
stations or newspapers, and a foreign web site is just as accessible as a domestic one.
There are numerous alternatives to government enforced laws to keep minors from accessing
“offensive” sites on the Internet. At home, the computer should be kept in a generally high-traffic area of
the house to make it easy to monitor a childs Internet usage. Another option, although I personally
disagree with it, would be to install blocking software that would restrict access to sites that contain key
words that would supposedly make the site “offensive.” Overall, I feel its the parents job to supervise a
childs Internet access and not the Federal Governments.
Of all the ways I feel that Internet censorship laws are wrong, the most important is the feeling
that these kind of laws are a violation to our constitutional rights to free speech as stated in the First
Amendment. The Internet is a new medium for free speech worldwide, and I think that it would be terribly
ironic if the United States should be the first nation to pass laws restricting this, for the sake of inefficiently
protecting minors from unproven “damaging” material.