"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."
Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment 1
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Beatrice Evelyn Hall, writing as S. G. Tallentyre
(Often misattributed to Voltaire!)
A writer's ideas should be equally worthy of society's protection regardless of the medium being used to distribute them. So ruled the U.S. Supreme Court in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union. The same protections the law applies to ideas distributed in print equally apply to ideas transmitted via the Internet, be it a Web site or a social media service. However, all conscientious citizens should be concerned about any attempt by our Congresscritters, corporate interests, or any others, to put any limitation on anyone's electronically-distributed ideas, whether we agree with them or not!
We must also fight strongly any attempt to hold any Internet service provider, electronic mail service provider, social media service, or other "way station" along the path of distribution, responsible for the content of the information in files and messages they store and transmit on behalf of their customers. Although they aren't currently treated so legally, Internet service providers should be considered "Common Carriers" in the same fashion as the Postal Service or telephone companies. No sane individual would consider holding the Postal Service liable for the content of letters or packages they deliver through the mail, or censure the phone company when one of its subscribers makes an obscene phone call! Nor would any legal entity consider holding a publisher responsible for the content of products it publishes for its customers. Internet service providers serve basically the same functions an the Post Office (e-mail), phone company (chat rooms and social media sites) and publisher (web sites). They should be given the same consideration and protection!
However, the recent legislative and prosecutorial efforts to limit electronically-distributed content that concern me the most are the misguided attempts by rabble-rousers, self-serving politicians and the Religious Right to apply "local moral standards" to an international network! Even if we were to ignore the international growth of the Web and limit our discussion solely to the USA, our constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom to practice their religion as they see fit. Since a person's "morality" is defined by and inextricably connected to their religious beliefs, any attempt to enforce a moral position by law is, in my opinion, a violation of the Amendment quoted above!
With the Communications Decency Act declared unconstitutional, many would question why this page, and the many others like it, continue to exist. The fact is, the CDA was only the first shot in what may prove to be a very long battle. The "enemies" arrayed against on-line free speech certainly aren't giving up, and they all have an agenda:
- The often-uninformed minions of mass media continue to sensationalize every negative fact about the Internet they can dig up (or invent!) to increase ratings or readership, and are willing to listen to—and quote!—anyone, whether they are qualified to talk about technology or not, as long as the answer they get is provocative . . . and regardless of the truth!
- Congresscritters, local politicians and special interest groups who either don't understand technology (or do but are more interested in career advancement that the truth!) who continually attempting to pass legislation to limit our free speech, privacy, and religious rights in the name of votes, power, position or personal gratification
- Conservative religious groups whose attempts to limit free speech on-line is only a small part of an overall goal of limiting your religious freedom through legislation
These groups are powerful, well financed and committed to continue the fight until the Internet is shackled to suit them. Until our electronics speech rights are clearly guaranteed by legislation, not just case law, those of us interested in maintaining the Internet as a open forum for diverse ideas must be willing to continue pressing our cause as well!
If you feel as strongly as I do about ensuring continued strong free speech rights are applied to all electronic media, please check in with the following organizations regularly:
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation. These people keep a close watch on any and all efforts to limit your electronic free speech!
- The Center for Democracy & Technology. In addition to free speech, this organization also tackles the government's battle to take away your right to secure your documents and conversations using data encryption, and privacy of online personal information, two other subjects dear to my heart!
If you read anything on these sites that concerns you, write your Congresscritters and let them know you disapprove!