Government Censors hip
of the Internet
By A li Alsayegh, Vang Lee, and Matthew Thompson
“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn 't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” By Eric Schmidt
Imagine that there are two children surfing the Internet without any supervision, one is in the United States and other is in Kuwait. Little Johnny in the United States can view pornographic material easily, while Timmy in Kuwait cannot view these particular websites because they are blocked by the Kuwaiti Government. This is an instance of how governments may or may not censor Internet content in different parts of the world. Depending on the country’s morals, beliefs and values, there exists different degrees of censorship.
As technology in the world advances, access to information has never been easier. The Internet specifically has brought more information to more people worldwide, however it does have negative aspects of uncensored Internet such as pornography and bomb making instructions. The Internet also has many benefits that include easy access to information, e-commerce, and easier communications. As a result of the wide variety of content, governments have been in constant debate over what material to censor. The ethical issue with Internet censorship is what constitutes on what should be censored and what should not be censored on the Internet.
Government Internet censorship is defined as the control or suppression of the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet. “Pornography sometimes shortened to porn or porno, is the explicit representation of the human body or sexual activity with the goal of sexual arousal. It is similar to, but distinct from erotica, which is the use of sexually arousing imagery used for artistic purposes only.”1 Internet censorship presents many ethical issues such as who is censoring it, types of censorship, and who is enforcing it. There are different types of Internet censorship that include classified information, scientific information, or moral views. As the Internet continues to progress, there is an increasing need to censor the content and integrity of the data available. Government should be the one that implements Internet censorship guidelines, because it is the most reliable and strongest source for censorship.
The Internet was created by the U.S. Government to share information on computers used for research in the scientific and military field. The World Wide Web Internet started in the 1960’s, with main access to government personnel as a communication systems that would survive through a nuclear war. “The Internet was designed in part to provide a communications network that would work even if some of the sites were destroyed by a nuclear attack. If the most direct route was not available, routers would direct traffic around the network via alternate routes”2. The first computer network system was proposed as Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). The Internet was brought online in 1969 known as ARPANET. Whether the world was ready for the data revolution, it was going to get it from the World Wide Web Internet. As technology advanced, it became more available to common people for information gathering and as a means of daily communications with others. “During the late 1980's, however, the population of Internet users and network constituents expanded internationally and began to include commercial facilities”.3 This included news stories, emails, audio, and video files. From past inventions like the telegraph, telephone, radio, and the computer, it has set the stage for the Internet to be what it is today.
The Internet has become more user friendly to the communities. It has grown so big that the majority of households in the U.S have access to the Web. In addition to households using the Internet, businesses use the Internet for a variety of things, especially since it eliminated distance barriers by the introduction of programs such as Skype. It has reduced long distance charges, postage and allowed for face to face communications. “Its history is complex and involves many aspects - technological, organizational, and community. And its influence reaches not only to the technical fields of computer communications, but throughout society as we move toward increasing use of online tools to accomplish electronic commerce, information acquisition, and community operations”.3 With such a huge population of people using the Internet today, schools have required students to learn about the Internet. There is so much information on the Internet, that some information is being misused. For example:- Profiling personal information, downloading secured information from businesses/agencies and invading other people’s privacy.
4The number of Internet users (the number of people, not computers) has grown by “202.9%”4 from 2000 to 2007. The largest segment of Internet users is children aged from 10-17. A recent study done in 2006 showed that, 33% of the youth users of the Internet were exposed to sexual material online they did not expect to see, compared to the or 25% in 1999.5 Regardless of the increased usage of protection devices such as filtering, blocking, and monitoring software the exposure to unwanted sexual material is still increasing in households with youth Internet users.
With so many parents unaware if their computer is equipped with the proper devices to protect their children from sexually explicit material, the risk of their children being exposed to sexually explicit material will increased.
The new and upgraded tools like DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and wireless Internet have helped save people a lot of time and money with communications. People are using the Internet to pay their bills, to order movies, shop online, and many other things. The convenience of the Internet, has allowed people to handle their personal business without leaving their homes.
“Today, four events have juxtaposed to create a crucial juncture. First, the Internet has exploded in use and reach (and no one controls the Internet, no one owns it, no one can ‘shut it off’). Second, the US Administration has vigorously promoted a vision of the Information Superhighway (the National Information Infrastructure - NII). Third, the entertainment industry, along with the telephone and cable TV industries have recognized that there is a massive business opportunity in network-based entertainment. Fourth, the telecommunications networks have been deregulated.”6
In the future, breakthroughs in technology will allow computers to run peoples everyday lives. These breakthroughs will also control cars, appliances, and security systems. For example, research has already begun to put microchips in people for identification and location purposes. There is a potential in the future for automobiles to be tracked with a monitoring system and a navigation system to update its database in real time. There is a chance that homes will be equipped with computer systems that integrate all their appliance and electronics together. For example the thermostat will sync with the current weather on the Internet to eliminate the need to manually adjusting the thermostat.
To make everything more convenient, every telephone number will become a World Wide Web address. So one day, in the not too distant future, we will have worked out easier ways to send instant messages from mobile phones to computers and back again. “Messaging, and particularly instant messaging, something of a new genre for the Internet - are here to stay, and are only going to get better”.7 Another development in the near future will be an increase in devices that support voice over IP (Internet Phone) in portable devices. This will allow significant savings compared to the old fashion telephone service. We are already seeing this trend at airports and other hotspots. “Peer to Peer” space is another advancement that will be implemented soon for direct one on one communication with any other computers over the Internet. Because there are different languages, the Internet will eventually provide translations for the Internet users so they can communicate without any misunderstandings. The potential impact of all information infrastructures is unbounded. The nature of the services and styles it can produce is limited only by the imagination of its practitioners.
While the Internet has a bright future for growth and an endless potential for different uses, there are growing concerns with issues surrounding it. These issues include pornography, blogging, and bomb making material. The creation of the Internet has opened Pandora’s Box for many good uses, but also created many problems such as those mentioned earlier. These issues exist both domestically and internationally.
Recently, Internet cencorship has been rising in foreign countries such as Kuwait, China and Iran. In Kuwait, pornography is illegal because it is against the state religion. Internet Companies in Kuwait have been censoring pornograghic website since right before the end of the milliemun. Some Internet cafés within Kuwait have been using proxy servers to get around the censorship. The Minster of Communications has been doing random checks on Internet cafés, and closing down cafés that allow access to pornographic materails.
China has been censoring key words such as “Tibet” and “Falun Gong” through contracts set up with search engine companies such as Google.8 These words are an example of what is done to combat independence movements, and politically sensitive issues such as democracy and human rights. China and its government are afraid of ideas and views that are not consistant with its own.
The Iranian government is censoring websites that contain pornograghic material, and material that contains antigovernment propaganda. The government has censored thousands of websites that post news items and blogs, but people have found ways around it by using email subscriber service. The Iranian government recently has increased its control on what is allowed to be posted on the internet.9
The three countries mentioned above are good examples of how censorship is done around the world. These are some examples of countries where government censorship is taking places, but they are not the only countries that are censoring the Internet. Countries that censor the Internet do it to different degrees. Some do it because of moral beliefs, religious beliefs such as Kuwait, and others to fit in with their political agendas such as Iran and China. For the purpose of making our agrument we are going to focus primarly on Kuwait and their reasoning behind their censorship.
As of September, 2006, there are approximately 700,000 Internet users in Kuwait. The Internet in Kuwait is widely available and accessible except for pornographic websites. The largest Internet provider in Kuwait blocks pornographic websites and some companies have been following them as a precedent.
Kuwaiti Internet users eventually discovered ways around accessing the blocked websites. They started by either using proxy IP’s to access these websites or using anonymous surfing programs. The Ministry of Communications is the government agency that regulates all communication including the Internet. There are no specific laws against pornography, but the Minstry is doing it based on the religious and culture values mention in the constitution.
The pre Internet generation in Kuwait is computer illiterate and as a result is facing difficulty monitoring childrens use of the Internet. The parents like the fact that the government is trying to censor the adult websites because a lot of them still do not know how to use the Internet. Nowadays they are becoming more computer literate for mainly two reasons:
- Self interest
- To watch over their children
There is a debate going on between government, citizens, businesses and members of parliament about censorship of the Internet. Some people see it as an ethical thing to do and others see it as an unethical thing to do. People see it from a religious and traditional stand point and others see it in a freedom of speech issue. Since there is no law introduced to censor pornography on the Internet, the question is raised as to whether the Internet companies should be allowed to censor pornographic websites.10
United States Censorship
Internet censorship within the United State is an ethical dilemma that has similarities to other countries around the world. Each country has its own set of ethics and values that can differ greatly from one another. Governments of some countries censor the Internet, while the United States has Internet censorship done on a local level or by business entities. The biggest difference between the United States and other countries is that the United States has the First Amendment that protects a person’s right to free speech.
With the ever-increasing amount of information on the Internet, there is an extraordinarily large amount of inappropriate content available to people of all ages. Currently in the U.S. there is no government mandated censorship of the Internet, but the government has agencies set up to monitor Internet activity deemed inappropriate. Activities such as materials that affect national security and materials that facilitate a user breaking the law, are considered inappropriate by the United States.
The United States does not censor websites, except child pornography where as some countries around the world block specific websites and blogs. The United States ability to censor the Internet is hindered by the First Amendment. The extensive law making process makes it difficult to change or make new laws in respect with the issue.
The United States government does not censor websites, but some public schools and businesses use software to restrict access to certain websites and program. As an example, pornography is banned in public schools and libraries, and employees at work are restricted from accessing websites deemed inappropriate to company policies. The criteria for company Internet censorship differs from company to company.
The ethical frameworks that we are going to use to tackle this issue are Duty based and the Utilitarian Ethical framework. Duty based Ethics is a set of laws, moral values, and religion that set the criteria for what is right and wrong. Utilitarian Ethics is defined as the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Both Ethical frameworks are going to be used to analyze the issues, but the results are going to vary from country to country. Countries with a diverse make up of religions and ethnicities will be harder to come up with a consensus for censorship criteria.
The Duty Based Ethical Framework as mentioned above uses values and religion to dictate what is right and wrong. For example, religion in Kuwait is used as a source for developing laws and guidelines for personal conduct. The censorship in Kuwait is based on religion and as a result, steps have been taken to censor this website. Iran on the other hand uses the same principles as Kuwait to censor pornography websites, but it takes a step further by censoring more websites on the Internet such as blogs seen as being wrong. The government censors it because of fear for national security and of protests by its people. China censors websites and specific key words on the Internet for fear of conflicting with their political agenda.
This ethical framework is tackled differently by each country depending on how each views what is right and wrong. This depends on the laws that are in place, and the moral values they have. Different countries will have different views on censoring material on the Internet.
The Utilitarian Based Ethical Framework can be demonstrated by using the United States as an example. Child pornography is a big issue in the United States, and is looked at harshly by the government and citizens. Therefore, a law was put in place to ban this material along law (TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 110 > § 2256)11with imposing harsh penalties for violators. On an International level the United Nations has instituted a law (resolution 2001/75)12 to ban and monitor child pornography on the Internet.
Censoring bomb making material, also benefits the greatest number of people as it prevents destructive behavior that could have serious consequences. It manages to deter the facilitation of individuals from trying to build a bomb no matter what their intentions are. Depending on circumstances, the Ethical Frameworks are used differently to tackle the issue and sometimes they are used in conjunction with each other.
As technology progresses it becomes easier to access information on the Internet, both good and bad. Different countries have different views and perceptions on the extent of how to censor the Internet. For example, Kuwait does not censor search engines or blogs, but censors pornography. On the other hand in China is restricting access to certain key words on search engines. Currently the majority of Internet users in the United States can access anything on the Internet, but it is being monitored by the government and private entities using programs that look for specific activities.
Because of the progression in technology, it is necessary for governments to step and censor the Internet. In order for government censorship to be effective, there must be a designated department to monitor, censor, and enforce the rules and regulations. Governments should not hire private companies to regulate and enforce the rules because of their different agendas and values.
Going forward we believe that some of the biggest issues that people will face on the Internet are pornography, privacy, identity theft, file sharing, and social networks that connect people such as Facebook. All these issues have the potential to ruin or destroy people’s reputations and harm others.
We believe that governments are the strongest and most influential entity censoring and enforcing guidelines for the Internet. Government censorship will always be a debatable issue, but government regulation of certain areas is an ethical thing to do. It is ethically justifiable taking the utilitarian, and consequence based frameworks of the basis of government Internet censorship. Of course there will be some contradiction on the beliefs, but they must set a common guideline and enforce it.
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