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One of the most publicized debates or controversial issues in the recent past is whether information on the Internet should be censored. The controversy associated with the issue is centered on whether the censorship is necessary towards the maintenance of a specific ethical standard in the society. Controversies regarding Internet censorship have also been fueled by the development and enactment of certain legislation that seeks to censor information on the World Wide Web. While there is no single resolution that everyone agrees to, Internet censorship is a topic that is being confronted and dealt with through various initiatives. Notably, proponents and opponents of censorship of information on the Internet continue raise several logical reasons to support their arguments. Generally, there is a genuine need for censorship of information on the Internet, especially with regards to illegal and unsuitable content.
Background of the Issue
According to Qazi, censorship of information on the Internet has been an issue in the past with a tragic outcome (par, 2). It is seemingly evident that the government usually attempts to rush in and regulate new technology as soon as it arrives. Some examples of such initiatives include governmental attempts to regulate telephone firms and regulation of U.S. Postal Service literature in public schools. The first publicized government censorship was reported in 1864 when the government enacted laws that prohibited sending inappropriate content through U.S. mail after a postmaster general discovered the enormous amount of nude pictures that were being sent to troops in the Civil War.
Since then, there have always been initiatives that focus on censorship of information across communication channels, especially technological communication mediums. The Internet has continued to develop and grow rapidly given its ability to expand the capabilities of an ordinary person to send and obtain information on a global scale. However, as the Internet continues to develop and grow rapidly, there are new issues of freedom of expression and censorship that continue to emerge. Censorship of information on the Internet has been fueled by several issues like children's exposure to pornography, which have been very controversial. As there is a wide range of material available on the Internet, debates on whether some information should be censored have continued to rise with varying arguments and counter arguments. The controversies have been accelerated by the development of legislation like the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Privacy Act (Cafferty par, 3).
As previously mentioned, proponents and opponents of Internet censorship have raised logical reasons to support their respective arguments. These groups have continued to express their opinions about the issue, which is relatively far from being resolved. Consequently, an individual's own decision regarding the most appropriate view of censorship of information on the Internet is based on his/her judgment after analyzing arguments and counter arguments in the various debates. However, it is increasingly evident that there is a genuine need for censorship of information on the Internet, particularly with regards to the increased availability and transmission of illegal and inappropriate content.
Opponents of this claim or Internet censorship argue that such initiatives are unconstitutional because of their likelihood to infringe the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the constitution. This opposition is based on the fact that the consideration of Internet censorship generates a conflict between individual rights and the government's obligation to protect its citizens (Peace, p.105). Freedom of speech or expression remains to be one of the most cherished freedoms that are guaranteed by the constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the Congress from enacting regulations that would limit or interfere with freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Censorship of information on the Internet is viewed as an unconstitutional initiative that would infringe on freedom of speech or expression.
This claim has also been opposed on the basis that any kind of Internet censorship is disadvantageous to companies. For instance, Internet companies have expressed fears and concerns that they could be punished for the actions of users if there censorship laws are enacted and enforced (Cafferty par, 6). Moreover, any form of censorship could also lead to additional governmental controls that could even infringe the right to privacy.
It is quite evident that these opponents' arguments have some major strength that must be considered to determine the most appropriate course of action. The likelihood of censorship of information on the Internet to contribute to infringement of freedom of speech or expression makes it unconstitutional and illegal. If such measures are not properly implemented, the censorship could end up having significant damages on Internet users and the society. Internet censorship is likely to make it difficult for people to freely express themselves and provide an opportunity for authoritative administration that could hinder its effectiveness.
However, there are some weaknesses in the arguments raised by opponents of the claim. First, it seems that these opponents based their arguments on the assumption that the censorship will be carried out inappropriately. They neglect or ignore the possibility of this process being carried out properly in a manner that balances freedom of speech and protection of the society. Secondly, the opponents' arguments are seemingly based on governmental regulation only and not other measures from Internet companies. Opponents ignore the fact that Internet companies can enforce censorship in attempts to act as socially responsible firms.
An analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of Internet censorship shows that such actions can be beneficial if they are used suitably and harmful when misused. Generally, there is a genuine need for censorship of information on the Internet, especially with regards to illegal and unsuitable content. As an adopted methodology, Internet censorship helps in securing personal information related to confidential work of a country as it is used to provide limit access to unnecessary or confidential information (Jyotsna, Kapil & Aayush, p.6). Censorship of information on the Internet could help in lessening criminal activities, reducing copyright infringement, and protecting access to illegal and inappropriate content.
The argument that it could result in infringement of freedom of speech or expression should not be the basis of avoiding this initiative despite being a logical reason. Every reasonable individual agrees that this freedom is qualified and is a contingent right that is tied to other rights (Pontin, p.62). While it is important to protect the right to free speech, the limits of what may be expressed should be defined. In essence, the decision on whether the Internet should be free from censorship should be based on objective evaluation of its advantages and disadvantages. This implies the need for a compromise on the issue through identifying a middle ground to address it. The common ground between this personal claim and opponents claim is that information on the Internet should be censored through ways that do not infringe the right to freedom of speech and right to privacy.
The question on whether the Internet should be free from censorship is an issue that has generated huge debates and controversies in the recent past. This issue has been characterized by arguments and counter arguments that are primarily based on the advantages and disadvantages of such initiatives. While there is a genuine need for Internet censorship mainly with regards to access to illegal and inappropriate content, such initiatives could result in violation of the right to free speech and privacy among other disadvantages. However, suitable measures should be developed and properly implemented toward censorship of information on the Internet while ensuring they are not unconstitutional. This implies that there is need to create a balance between censorship and right to free speech.
Cafferty, Jack. "Should the U.S. Government Censor the Internet?" Online Posting. CNN - Cafferty File. Cable News Network, 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2014.
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