Telecommunications Bills - Internet Censorship

Telecommunications Bills - Internet Censorship
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The People
January 27, 1996
Vol. 105 No. 18

EDITORIAL -- INTERNET CENSORSHIP

Several bills and amendments to "telecommunications reform" bills presently working their way through Congress propose to censor the Internet and other telecommunications in the interest of fighting pornography.

Most of this legislation is patterned after the Communications Decency Act introduced last year in the Senate. That bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934, which outlawed NONCONSENSUAL "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent" speech over telephones. It would broaden the scope of the act by outlawing even a CONSENSUAL user of a "communications device" who "makes, transmits, or otherwise makes available any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication" that is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent."

Internet services and electronic mail providers, commercial on- line services and bulletin board systems would face criminal liabilities if such communications were detected within their services. Privacy in all these arenas would suffer as such organizations would be forced to police their services. Individuals sending such messages would face up to $100,000 in fines and two years in prison.

The ostensible reason for such censorship is to protect women and children from sexual aggressors. But permitting or encouraging the state to determine what is "pornography" and what is art or literature transgresses freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and the capitalist state will need little encouragement to cross the sometimes hazy lines between "deviant" sex-related material, "deviant" social commentary and then "deviant" political literature.

Indeed, the present bills do not exist in a vacuum. The religious right is also crusading to purge sex education materials, certain science texts and other literature from schools and libraries. The federal government now subjects to agency review all articles for publication written by federal employeesQexcept the high-level ones, who routinely refuse to submit their works with impunity. "Liberal" organizations seek to censor hate speech and conservative organizations seek to censor anything liberal. And these are not the only examples of capitalist and state efforts to stifle the free communication of ideas.

In condemning efforts at censorship like those ostensibly directed at electronic pornography, we do not thereby defend porn merchants. Rather we urge workers to defend freedom of the press and freedom of expression. If society is to advance to a higher morality, it can only do so by creating a healthy, nonexploitative social system. It cannot advance by succumbing to the dictates of self-righteous defenders of a system predicated on exploitation, deprivation, dehumanizing relations, oppression and violence.

-- K.B.