Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Internet Freedom Hangs By A Thread

A shocking new poll published by Rasmussen this week finds that a plurality of 49% of respondents favor government regulation of the Internet just like that of radio and TV. If anything does, this must send a cold chill up the spines of any civil libertarians out there. And such shocking poll numbers only serve to justify the self-righteous attempts of the Bush Administration to impose it's own hypocritical and perverted sense of morality on the nation and strike away at as many civil liberties as possible on it's way out of office.

The Bush Administration has done all that it can to prove to the American public that it lied about Iraq in the run-up to the war, as well as allowed the torture and abuse of prisoners not hardly seen since some of the war abuses of WWII by the Nazis or the Japanese. Yet it is confounding that a plurality of Americans would want to hand over important press freedoms to perhaps the most morally challenged presidential administration in some years. By a small number, only men were wary of handing over freedom of the press of the Internet over to the Bush Administration.

There are certainly some areas where the government has a real concern and should step in to protect the public. When the Internet is used to create financial fraud or to harass or threaten persons, then these are all important areas for government to intervene. Regulating sexually oriented unwanted spam Emails is also another area where there is a legitimate role for government to act. But government should have no role in acting as editor or censor and deciding what can be ultimately published on the Internet. This is stepping all over the Bill Of Rights.

No doubt women may be supportive of government regulation of the Internet for several reasons. They may be the mother of small children and want their children to have a safe place where creepy guys will not attempt to contact or harm their children. That's perfectly reasonable. However, there are many important safeguards as well as programs and other safeguards that can achieve this without inviting in the government as final editor for all Internet content. Some women may also be offended by a large amount of sexual content available on the Internet as well. However, only a tiny portion of this content could conceivably be prosecuted under obscenity laws. Most material that only deals in nudity or even sexual intercourse is probably constitutionally protected under the standard of being sexually explicit, but not obscene, under the definitions of previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Only a few websites, mostly those coming out of Europe where there are no obscenity laws in many of these European states, have some of the extreme material that could conceivably be considered as obscene. In the U.S., a website would generally have to feature some bizarre and extreme activity such as severe S&M, rape, fisting, using animals in a sexual manner, urination, defecation or vomiting in some sexually offensive manner to be brought up on possible obscenity charges. Nonsexual violence of all types does not fall into area of government control except for sites that might advocate violence. But such outrageous websites are very rare, so even most sexually oriented websites cannot be shut down because they deal in far less extreme and much more mainstream sexually explicit, but not obscene content. The standard for indecent content is far lower, and can subject TV or radio to millions of dollars in fines simply for mildly offensive language.

Some in the public, as well in Washington were disgusted by the content that could be found on the Internet way back in 1998, and wrote a new law, COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, that would regulation the content of the Internet way down to standard of any content as being viewed as being potentially "harmful to a minor" to allow for fines of $50,000 a day and six months in prison. A website's content, in either language or graphics would not have to even rise to the radio or TV standard of indecent content to fall under possible prosecution under this much lower standard for allowable Internet content. And COPA was also written years before YouTube, chatrooms, or many other newer features of the Internet, making the new law an obsolete way to regulate the content of the growing medium of the Internet.

Recently, the Bush Administration has been attempting to get a U.S. Supreme Court imposed injunction against enforcement of COPA lifted. After a federal judge declared COPA as unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this decision, COPA has been in legal limbo, hanging around out there, but not legally enforceable. Earlier this month, the ACLU had to act to defend the existing injunction against COPA from a new effort by the Bush Administration to get the injunction against COPA lifted by a federal court. If the U.S. Supreme Court becomes any more conservative such as the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, then the injunction on COPA could be lifted and enforcement would begin. Overnight this could result in the arrests of thousands of website operators for either language or graphic content that could loosely be considered as potentially being considered as "harmful to a minor" in some way.

A McCain victory in November would likely result in one or more conservative appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as many federal judges, and even the appointments by a Hillary Clinton could have been nearly as bad if she appointed some radical feminists who view web content in some radical terms of a class struggle of men vs. women. the big question will be what sort of federal judges or Supreme Court justices that the constitutional law professor Barack Obama will appoint. His background and respect for the constitution should make his appointments as perhaps the most wise of the three possible presidential hopefuls. At this point, the relative, but not absolute, freedom of speech and content that the Internet now enjoys hangs by a likely 5 to 4 thread by the current U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice John Paul Stevens may consider himself to be a conservative Republican, but he has been very good at supporting honest opinions that have maintained some sense of press freedom and is the only thread preventing a rampant government abuse of press freedoms and loss of civil liberties. When he chooses to retire, the next president must wisely choose his replacement. Internet press freedom is just one of many issues that hangs by this single thread.


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