FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTION SUSPENDED ON PUBLIC COMPUTER SYSTEMS
by: Kenny Moore
On December 15, 2000, Congress passed, by a disgustingly lobsided 292- 60 voting margin, legislation which would require both public schools and libraries to install "censor-ware" or be denied funding services provided under the federal “e-rate” plan. This legislation was dubbed the "Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)" and the "Neighborhood Internet Protection Act (NCIPA)" as part of HR 4577, which was a major spending bill. The bill was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton on December 21, 2000.
As was the case when this sort of legislation was first sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), we at Rock Out Censorship see this as a form of political blackmail that forces local authorities to either endorse unconstitutional governmental censorship, or lose the vital funding needed for providing computer and internet services to the public. We applaud and are very thankful for the efforts of the American Library Association and the ACLU in stepping up to file a lawsuit seeking to nullify this legislation by getting it declared unconstitutional. Features on this subject can be found at their sites at http://www.ala.org/cipa/ and at http://www.aclu.org/features/f032001a.html. Rock Out Censorship has joined a wide variety of organizations condemning this legislation through a Joint Statement organized by the Online Policy Group. The Joint Statement and further details on this subject can be found at: http://www.onlinepolicy.org/network/statement.htm.
We feel it to be very important that those on freedom's side of this political fight do not conceed even a single point. So in our reporting of this subject, we will refer to this legislation as the Children's Internet Censorship Act or the Neighborhood Internet Censorship Act, choosing to not acknowledge the intentionally deceiving term "Protection" as penned by the authors of the legislation. The censors know that semantics and terminology can be very important in winning public support. In an era of soundbyte news where you only have 30 seconds or so to explain your stances, they know that they put our side in a difficult position in having to explain why we are against "protecting children" in choosing the language of their legislation. But the reality is that we do not feel that legislation such as this serves to protect anyone, only to restrict us in direct conflict to our Constitutionally guaranteed rights. It merely gives our government and a handful of software companies absolute control over the flow of information on public computer systems. It is our opinion that our children need protection from corrupt elected officials that would trample on all our Constitutional rights a lot more than they need protection from any potentially objectionable material they may receive in the on-line environment.
Excerpted material from a previous article I wrote on this subject that very much still applies now--
"Commenting on previous filtering legislation, Senatorial sponsor, John McCain says that the legislation abides by constitutional free speech protections because it does not restrict what's on the Internet." "The prevention lies not in censoring what goes onto the Internet, but rather in filtering what comes out of it onto the computers our children use outside the home," McCain said. The bill would apply to schools and libraries that receive federal subsidies to help them gain Internet access. Such justification is moving seriously into the realm of Orwellian doublespeak in our opinion. The idea that silencing content and opinions at the destination point rather than the source point is not censorship would be completely laughable if not for the seriousness of the attack on our rights. Applying this logic to the print medium, they are saying it would be perfectly fine for the government to confiscate all newspapers or magazines from library shelves that have anything "potentially" offensive within, thus blocking everyone from receiving that information. By their skewed logic it would not be censorship to do so since they didn't stop the publication of the material in question, but rather the distribution. Do we really think that such learned individuals as those in office are not intelligent enough to know their logic is seriously flawed? Of course they know they are trying to undermine our rights--they are just trying to come up with some pretty packaging to sell it to us, hoping the American public will fall for their soundbyte material hook-line-and-sinker. We urge all our readers to vehemently reject such con games with our rights.
It is very important for those on the fence or on the opposing side on this issue to realize that on the surface, the stated intent of this legislation is to prevent children from obtaining adult oriented material (a goal many parents or citizens may share), but beneath the surface, there is a lot more going on that renders this as a very serious threat to all our rights. Realize that due to this legislation or previous policies by individual libraries implementing filtering software, the Rock Out Censorship website is no longer available to many students that would want to reference our site for research material on the subject of censorship. Our website is no longer available to many citizens that cannot afford to own a computer that can only access the internet at their local public library.
We were raised to believe that no political opinion is suppressed in this country that values freedom of thought and expression, but that is exactly what is happening with the blocking of our website. This is due to the overt political agenda that is hidden within the criteria of what gets blocked and what does not by several of the leading filtering software manufacturing companies. The companies often refuse to reveal the criteria by which sites get blocked and they will not publish a listing of blocked sites to help inform consumers as to exactly what their products do, yet our government is mandating the use of their products. We feel this secrecy behind their criteria is because they do not wish for their political agenda to be exposed. Details on a court case where Mattel Inc, previous owners of a widely used filtering software package called Cyber Patrol, successfully stopped the dissemination of a program that would allow consumers to unlock their block list to see exactly what is blocked can be found at http://www.aclu.org/news/2000/n032800b.html. If this legislation survives legal challenge, which we do not feel it will, then we as citizens and consumers damn well better demand that these software companies reveal how and why decisions are made regarding blocking sites.
At least one prominent filtering software package we are aware of, BESS, derives revenue for its manufacturers, N2H2, through it's blocking procedure. So a visit that was intended to come to our site to obtain the information we have to offer instead serves to make money for the filtering software manufacturer through the corporate sponsorship of their filtering practices. To us, this is the equivalent of corporate advertisers paying a company to post guards at your storefront to prevent potential customers from coming inside in an attempt to squash your business. This would not be tolerated in the "real" world, so why do so many embrace such tactics in the "cyber" world? And now our government is assisting them in seeking to profit off of blocking potential visitors from reaching our site by requiring purchase of their products for all public computer systems.
We find this situation completely unacceptable not only from a Constitutional First Amendment perspective but also as a restriction and interference in commerce (as we have merchandise of our own available for purchase that they are preventing our potential customers from seeing). The resultant reduction in our traffic recently played a role in our being dropped from a banner advertising network that was producing some much needed revenue for our efforts. So we are being directly and seriously harmed in more ways than one by this unconstitutional legislation, all because we choose to say things in a way that is unacceptable to elected officials like John McCain and the decision makers at the software manufacturing companies. The answer in what is supposed to be a free country is not to force conformity upon us, it is to strike down such laws that eliminate freedom of expression and restrict the ability of citizens to access materials they wish to view/read.
In a recent Peacefire report located at http://www.peacefire.org/amnesty-intercepted/, it was discovered that dozens of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, had their sites turn up under the blocked category meaning students were unable to access information reported on these sites. To anyone that deems it vitally important to rid society of internet pornography, we ask is this price of restricting freedom of speech with such amazing recklessness worth the mere possibility of obtaining your goal? Are sites like Amnesty International, working tirelessly at protecting human rights throughout the world, just to be considered unfortunate but necessary casualties in your efforts to impose your morality on everyone else?
It's one thing for software to exist like this on a strictly voluntary basis where only those that wish to use it have it on their systems. We would question the decision making process of anyone that chooses to implement such obviously flawed software to make decisions for them, but acknowledge the rights of those that choose to do so. But to make installation of such software mandatory on all public computer systems goes FAR BEYOND what is acceptable to any public that values freedom. In this case, the solution of eliminating First Amendment rights is FAR WORSE than the perceived problem.
Sadly we again have to count on the courts to rectify an injustice perpetrated by our elected officials. These are people that are supposed to be sworn to uphold the US Constitution, but instead use it for toilet paper in their desire to keep us all in the box of thinking they want us in. ROC will work to keep you updated on the developments as this court case proceeds. We urge you to contact your elected officials to urge them to stop passing legislation that undermines our rights.