February 10, 2009

Freedom of Speech on the Internet

In the words of John Barlow, a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) -- "In Cyberspace, the First Amendment is a local ordinance". The Internet helps to promote Freedom of Speech globally. The Internet is another medium for people to use for Freedom of Expression. It is a large common area, a cyber village one might say, where people have access to information from all over the world. The Internet promotes Freedom of Speech.

During the Tiananmen Square rebellion in China in 1990, the Internet kept Chinese communities around the world, especially in universities, in touch with the current events through email and the news groups, bypassing all government censorship. That is only one example of the Freedom of Speech in a country that otherwise does not have that right. There so many more to choose from. It just goes to show the power of the people all over the world. Many countries will attempt to put a stop to their people’s voices, yet people will find a way around it. Internet censorship is control or suppression of the publishing of information on the Internet. Many countries however do not have the ability to control what their people have access to due to technology.

The concern for Government tracking has increased since 9/11. Fortunately, the U.S. Government has no way to track our Internet usage. On January 22, 2009, for the second time in a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the risks of the sexually exploited pornography on the Internet pale before the perils of censorship. However, the UK Government is using a private company to track all personal emails and website visits. The information is available to police departments in order to help crack down on serious crime. It is also available to local councils, health authorities and post offices. During the period of March to June 2008, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency identified 96 suspects (who have been arrested) and safeguarded 30 children through the use of internet related data. However, is it worth this invasion of privacy?

The Freedom of Speech is widely challenged. Everyone has the right to their opinion. However, when people express their opposition towards beliefs, there are members of the Government who work to forcefully silent them. Rather than embracing diversity or listen to others ideas, they would rather accuse them of “hate speech”. The Internet provides a space where people can feel safe to go online and blog their opinions openly and, if they chose to do so, anonymously. People seem to forget that if they are listening or reading something that offends them, they have the right to turn it off.

“When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct, that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas, that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” - Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; Abrams v. United States; In dissent; 250 U.S. 616; 630; 1919.

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