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Improving Cyberspace
"People don't inadvertently tune into while driving to a Sunday picnic with Aunt Gwendolyn" (Huber). For some reason, many people believe this philosophy and therefore think the Internet and other online areas should not be subject to censorship. The truth is, however, that computerized networks like the Internet are in desperate need of regulations. People can say, do, or create anything they wish, and as America has proved in the past, this type of situation just doesn't work. Though governments cannot physically regulate the Internet, cyberspace needs regulations to prevent illegal activity, the destruction of morals, and child access to pornography. First, censoring the online community would ease the tension on the computer software industry. Since the creation of the first computer networks, people have been exchanging data back and forth, but eventually people stopped transferring text, and started sending binaries, otherwise known as computer programs. Users like the idea; why would someone buy two software packages when they could buy one and trade for a copy of another with a friend? This philosophy has cost the computer industry millions, and companies like Microsoft have simply given up. Laws exist against exchanging computer software; violators face up to a $200,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment, but these laws are simply unenforced. Most businesses are violators as well. Software companies require that every computer that uses one of their packages has a separate license for that software purchased, yet companies rarely purchase their required minimum. All these illegal copies cost computer companies millions in profits, hurting the company, and eventually hurting the American economy. On the other hand, many people believe that the government cannot censor the Internet. They argue that the Internet is an international network and that one government should not have the power to censor another nation's telecommunications. For example, American censors can block violence on American television, but they cannot touch Japanese television. The Internet is open to all nations, and one nation cannot appoint itself police of the Internet. Others argue that the design of the Internet prohibits censorship. A different site runs every page on the Internet, and usually the location of the site is undetectable. If censors cannot find the site, they can't shut it down. Most critics believe that America cannot possibly censor the Internet. Indeed, the American government can censor the Internet. Currently, the National Science Federation administers all internet addresses, such as web addresses. The organization could employ censors, who would check every American site monthly. Any site the censors find with illegal material could immediately lose their address, thus shutting down the site. Some might complain about cost, but if the government raised the annual price to hold an address from a modest $50 to say $500, they could easily afford to pay for the censors. This would not present a problem, because mostly businesses own addresses; it would not effect use by normal people. For example, is the address for Microsoft, but addresses like just do not exist. Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's) are another computer media in need of censorship. Like the Internet, some spots contain hard core pornography, yet some have good content. Operators usually orient their BBS's for the local community, but some operators open their system to users across the world. The government can shut down a BBS if it transfers illegal material across a state border according to federal law. As a postal worker in Tennessee showed, shutting down a BBS with illegal pornography is an easy process. When he called a BBS in California and found illegal child pornography, he called his local police. Two days later the police had closed the BBS and Robert Thomas was awaiting prosecuting in a Tennessee jail (Elmer-Dewitt). If the government were to employ censors like that postal worker, thousands of BBS's transmitting illegal material across state borders could be shut down immediately. Secondly, censoring cyberspace would help establish moral standards. According to a local survey, 83% of adults online have downloaded pornographic material from a BBS. 47% of minors online have downloaded pornographic material from a local BBS (Crandall). In another world wide survey, only 22% of 571 responders thought the Internet needed regulation to prevent minors from obtaining adult material (C|Net). Obviously, something is wrong with America's morals. A child cannot walk into a video store and walk out with X-rated movies. A minor cannot walk out of a bookstore with a copy of Playboy. Why can children sit in the privacy of their home and look at pornographic material and we do nothing about it? It is time America does something to establish moral standards. Certainly, people accepted the fact that pornography exists many years ago. In addition, however, they set limits as to how far pornography could go, yet cyberspace somehow snuck past these limits. Just after the vote on the Exon bill, Senator Exon said "I knew it was bad, but when I got out of there, it made Playboy and Hustler look like Sunday-School stuff" (Elmer-Dewitt). He was talking about the folder of images from the Internet he received to show the Senate just before the vote. An hour later, the vote had passed 84 to 16. Demand drives the market, it focuses on images people can't find in a magazine or video. Images of "pedophilia (nude photos of children), hebephilia (youths) and what experts call paraphilia -- a grab bag of 'deviant' material that includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts with a barnyard full of animals" (Elmer-Dewitt) floods cyberspace. Some wonder how much of this is available, a Carnegie Mellon study released last June showed that the Internet transmitted 917,410 sexually explicit pictures, films, or short stories over the 18 months of the study. Over 83% of all pictures posted on USENET, the public message center of the Internet, were pornographic (Elmer-Dewitt). What happened to our Information Superhighway, is this what we are fighting to put into our schools? Furthermore, illegal material other than pornography is making its way online. When companies such as Paramount and FOX realized they were loosing money because they were not online, they took action. They realized that people make money online just like they do on television. Several people make fan pages with sound and video clips of their favorite television programs. When companies heard of this, they wanted to do it themselves, and sell advertising positions on their pages like with television. Now these companies are pushing for court orders to shut down these fan pages due to copyright infringement (Heyman 78). If someone censored these pages for copyrighted material in the first place, neither the company nor the owner of the page would waste time and money in these legal matters. Now, the company can sue the owner of the page for copyright infringement. All this because some Star Trek fan wanted to share some sound clips with other fans. Most important, online pornography is easily accessible to minors. What are parents to do, usually it is the child in the family who is computer literate. If the child was accessing pornographic material with computers, odds are the parents would never know. Even if the parents are computer literate, children can find it, even without looking for it. When 10 year old Anders Urmachen of New York City hangs out with other kids in America On Line's Treehouse chat room, he has good clean fun. One day, however, when he received a message in e-mail with a file and instructions on how to download it, he did. When he opened the file, 10 clips of couples engaged in heterosexual intercourse appeared on the screen. He called his mother who said, "I was not aware this stuff was online, children should not be subject to these images" (Elmer-Dewitt). Poor Anders Urmachen didn't go looking for pornography, it snuck up on him, and as long as America allows it to happen, parents are going to have to accept the chance that their children may run into that stuff. In addition, for several years the people of Michigan have enjoyed access to the Internet through the state funded program called Mich-Net. The program offers the public free access to the Internet, along with schools throughout the state. On the other hand, the Mich-Net program has one flaw. The program gives anonymity, allowing anyone, of any age, to access anything on the Internet. According to the new Communications Decency Act, which Clinton signed into law February 8, 1996, the government could terminate the entire Mich-Net program because a minor can access pornography through it. This would be a huge loss to the state of Michigan and it's schools. If we were to censor the Internet, minors wouldn't be able to access the material, and the program would have no problems. Furthermore, BBS's offer minors adult material at no cost. While some BBS's that only offer adult material to adults, others make access very simple. Some simply say "Type YES if you are over 18." This is simply unexplainable and unacceptable. Others require a photo copy of a driver license showing the user is over 18, and other operators even require meeting their users. If all it takes to access adult material is hitting three keys, what is stopping children from it. Most young children do not have the ability to decide where they should go and where they should not. If it is available, they are going to want to see what it is. To extend the problem further, these BBS's are usually undetectable to a child's parents. Most BBS's are local phone calls, and are free; the parents will never know if the child is accessing it. For example, the Muskegon area has about 15 BBS's running 24 hours daily. Of these 15, about five operators devote their BBS to adult material. Of these five, only one BBS requires that the user meet the operator before receiving access, while three of the boards simply ask for a photo copy of a drivers license. But that last one has no security whatsoever, and anyone can access anything. None of the five boards charge for access. This is simply unacceptable, we cannot let children access adult material in this manner. Every day thousands of children tune into sex in cyberspace. We do not subject our children to sex on television or other medias, and even if we do, parents have ways to block it. Yet we allowed computers to slip through the grips of parents. Censoring the online community will also strengthen the computer industry and eventually our economy. The longer we wait, the more we hurt ourselves; let's regulate cyberspace before it is too late. Works Cited C|Net. Survey Internet: 29 July 1995. Crandall, Jason. Survey Muskegon, Michigan: 29 Jan. 1996. Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. "On a Screen Near You: Cyberporn." Time 3 July 1995: Proquest. Heyman, Karen. "War on the Web." Net Guide Feb. 1996: 76-80. Huber, Peter. "Electronic Smut." Forbes 31 July 1995: 110.


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