Internet Censorship

Overview Most people are against censorship. Freedom of speech is, after all, one of the cornerstones of democracy. Freedom of speech, however, sometimes clashes with cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and security demands. Within homogeneous cultures during peaceful times, freedom-of-speech issues may be easily resolved, but in culture-spanning cyberspace and during times of international tension, cultural sensitivity and national security add a complex dimension to the censorship debate.

General Information Web censorship can be implemented as Internet filters, firewalls, Internet blocking, DNS poisoning, and Internet zoning.  It is currently used by some organizations and governments to control the content viewed by individuals accessing Web pages over the Internet. The largest complaint about Internet censorship is that it ignores free-speech rights and violates the civil liberties of Internet users. For example, civil rights groups believed that provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) designed to keep pornography out of the hands of minors violated free speech guarantees provided by the First Amendment. A Supreme Court decision in the case American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) vs. Reno struck down the online censorship provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Read this  precedent setting lawsuit at this link. You can view a list of ways in which the CDA was thought to violate First Amendment rights at The Internet Censorship FAQ at the Ethical Spectacle Website.

Web censorship is sometimes used to control the content viewed by Internet users. The "Great Firewall of China" is an example of rigorous government censorship. Read about the complex issue of how China controls the information that is available to its citizens in the PCWorld article "China Finds Freedom Behind Great Firewall" by Sumner Lemon. Specific information about methods for controlling and editing information available to Internet users in China is outlined at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/china. Although China practices aggressive censorship, some critics have exaggerated its tactics. Read a list of "Internet censorship in China myths" that continue to appear in the media at http://ice.citizenlab.org/?p=127.

Saudi Arabia established the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) as a governing body for the Internet. This organization is responsible for designing the framework for an Internet that functions according to Islamic rules. Read about how the Saudi government protects its people against "immoral foreign influences" at the Privacy International article entitled "Silenced - Saudi Arabia". For more specific information about Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia read "Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia in 2004" by the OpenNet Initiative.

Australia is thought to have one of the most intensive and restrictive Internet censorship policies in the Western world. Read about Australian censorship policies at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_Australia.

It is the opinion of many people and organizations that Web censorship does not and cannot work. Read what Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has to say about Web censorship in this NetworkWorld article. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is an anti-censorship organization that fights for freedom of speech in the digital world. Its Blue Ribbon campaign supports and promotes the right of free speech. The U.S. government is becoming more active in the fight against Web censorship internationally as can be noted in the Security Focus article "U.S. Sponsors Anti-Censorship Web Service." Many large U.S. technology companies that provide services in the United States and abroad are being criticized for policies that support censorship. Read more about this issue at management.silicon.com.

Additional Links Many misleading myths and hoaxes have circulated about attempts to control the Internet. One such hoax is the "Bill 602P" hoax. Read about this hoax and its claim that the U.S. Postal Service is going to impose a 5 surcharge on every e-mail message sent via the Internet at www.snopes.com/business/taxes/bill602p.asp. The "Bill 602P" hoax became so wide spread that the U.S. Postal Service posted this notice on their Website. Another humorous Internet hoax is the Internet Clean UP Day myth. Read about it at www.truthorfiction.com. Many people became nervous about a myth that the FCC was going to start charging Internet access fees. Read the specific e-mail message that circulated as well as the statement by the FCC regarding it at http://urbanlegends.about.com.