L. Neil Smith's
Number 177, June 10, 2002


CIPA and the Freedom of the Press
by James G. Maynard

Special to TLE

In 2000, President Clinton signed the Children's Internet Protection Act, which threatened to cut off Federal dollars for libraries and schools which had not installed internet filters by July 1st to prevent the viewing of adult material at these facilities. On Friday, May 31 of this year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Although the suit did relieve public libraries of the requirement, the suit did not cover schools, as they were not represented by the plaintiffs, and public schools are legally bound to act as children's guardians during school hours.

Children need to be protected from certain dangers in society, yet internet filters are not the way to protect them from adult material. Parents are the ultimate filters, instilling, the best they can, their concept of morality and mores. The attempt at Government censorship on public computers of "indecent" material is an affront to the legitimate authority of parents.

The installation of filters on public computers is also unnecessary, unenforceable, and undermines the freedom of the press.

First, most people are unlikely to view adult material in a public place such as a library or school computer lab. The large number of people around, who can see what one is viewing, does not leave a great deal of privacy for the individual who is viewing the material. Although many people surf the web for adult material, few want to be seen doing it.

Second, internet filters prevent the viewing of useful material which is filtered out by such a device. Not only could students not get information on homosexuality or breast cancer, but most astronomy websites would be blocked (due to "naked eye" astronomy), and any mention of the word blue (as in Lenny Bruce's "blue" comedy) might also be taboo.

Third, much adult material will come through the filters, and be available. Adult webmasters might make a simple text change, such as changing the letter O to a zero, and be able to get pass the filters.

Also, a "one-size-fits-all" program does not respect the religious or moral choices made by parents. Some Muslims, for instance, may find a bare shoulder distasteful, while certain people of other denominations may have a much greater tolerance for the showing of a human body. It is not the duty of the Government, but the duty of parents to provide a basis for their children as to what they deem to be decent or indecent material.

We also need to worry about enforcement of such a law. Would the federal Government create a new bureau to oversee that such internet filters were in place, and turned on? What if they were not? Would jack-booted thugs bash down the doors of our libraries, children cowering on the floor, because the internet might be too traumatic for them? This may seem glib, but if there were no enforcement, then what would stop schools and libraries from buying the filters, and only saying that they were installed? The call for enforcement teams would soon be heard from the Department of Justice.

The poor would be most affected by such a law. For many of those who cannot afford a home computer and internet access, public libraries provide their only access to the information resources available on the web. These people will miss a great deal of information, accidentally blocked by an inefficient filter.

Most importantly, it opens the most dangerous door of all, Government censorship of viewing material. After "indecent material", what is next? Likely, any web page having to do with bomb-making designs, and militants. After all, we have a war on terrorism to fight. Next, what about protecting children from the views of anarchists? Communists? Socialists? Libertarians?

We need to ask ourselves who we believe can raise our children better; Government bureaucrats like Bill Clinton, John Ashcroft and Ted Kennedy, or the parents of this nation? The Federal Government has shown time and again that any problems it tackles only become worse. The war on poverty has increased poverty, gun "control" has increased violent crime, and the DEA now admits that their latest anti-drug campaign has increased the use of drugs among pre-teens. It seems the chances of raising a better generation through the use of Federal censorship is slim indeed.

This is a slippery road down a dangerous path, and the court was right in stopping the law. One of the things which made this country great is freedom of the press (which now includes the internet), and that is why the U.S. Supreme court has almost always found in favor of the press when they are censored.

It is the responsibility of the parents to make sure that a child knows what sites are appropriate, and which are not. Parents need to teach their children right from wrong, and not pass that responsibility to another big Government program.

Our children our too important to have their futures entrusted to blind, ineffective censorship. The Children's Internet Protection Act is wrong for our children's futures, our spirituality, and it is un- American.


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