Society - Internet

Keeping cyberspace free

      A lesson from this example is that false information and a lack of truthful information can open doors to intrusive regulation and legislation. The CDA was born of worthy intentions, but was sorely flawed in execution. Solving problems of speech should not — indeed, must not — involve abridging freedom of speech.

      Other, similar examples exist, from attempts to control or limit encryption (the misguided “clipper chip” initiative) to efforts to impose taxes on commercial dealings through the Internet. Yet there is also a groundswell of support for the view that now is not the time to place burdensome restrictions on the Internet nor on any form of communication (e.g., the White House’s “hands-off” position regarding Internet commerce). And, on the positive side of Net-related legislation, a bill is pending which would enhance privacy by requiring web sites which “gather” information from its visitors to give notice to users and obtain their consent before then doing so. Ways of extending extant copyright law to deal with the advent and growth of the Internet are also being considered.

      The common thread is that technology generally possesses — or can create — the solutions to the problems which the Net faces. In the case of the CDA, the same result — protecting children from smut — was achieved through developing and distributing “blocking” software, now widely available from major internet service providers and elsewhere. And while government intervention is not the answer, it can also be seen that tolerance of irresponsible or illegal conduct within the Internet community can create a climate where such an option seems reasonable. “The anarchy that exists on the Net in the long run will not be beneficial to most people using the Net,” says Dan Duncan, vice president for government affairs for the Information Industry Association. In this regard, most agree that peer pressure from those who live and work in Cyberspace is the answer.

      The CDA began as an idea to protect America’s children and resulted in an affront to the Constitution. The best protection against such mistakes in the future is to get the facts – and then find solutions in technology. This approach gains popularity every time it works. It is up to all in the Internet community to see that it continues to do so.

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