Regulating The Internet: Who’s In Charge
James H Huff English 111G Fall 1996
The internet was started by the military in the late forties, and has since
grown to an incredibly large and complex web, which will no doubt effect all of
us in the years to come. The press has recently taken it upon themselves to
educate the public to the dark side of this web, a network which should be
veiwed as a tremendous resource of information and entertainment. Instead, due
to this negative image, more and more people are shying away from the internet,
afraid of what they may find there. We must find a way to regulate what is there,
protect ourselves from what is unregulatable, and educate the general populace
on how to use this tremendous tool.
“The reality exists that governance of global networks offers major
challenges to the user, providers, and policy makers to define their boundaries
and their system of govenment” (Harassim, p84)
The intemet is a group of networks, linked together, which is capable of
transmitting vast amounts of information from one network to another. The
internet knows no boundaries and is not located in any single country. The
potential the internet has of shaping our world in the future is inconceivable.
But with all its potential the internet is surrounded by questions of its usage.
The intemet was named the global village by McLuhan and Fiore in 1968, but
recently the internet has been more properly renamed the global metropolis.
Robert Fortner defines the internet as a place where people from all different
cultures and backgrounds come together to share ideas and information.
“Communication in a metropolis also reflects the ethnic, racial, and sexual
inequalities that exist generally in the society. ” (Fortner, p25)
When a person enters into a global metropolis to engage in communication
they do not know who they will interact with nor do they know what information
that they may come across. Which brings an important question to mind. If this
is a community, a global metropolis, should it not be governed to protect the
members of the community? But more importantly, can a community that knows no
boundaries and belongs to no country, be regulated? And who can or should
With the vast amounts of information transmitted through network to network,
with some information remaining at sites temporarily or disappearing within
seconds, how can one regulate it? In a meeting of the Senate Select Committee on
Community Standards in Australia, iiNet, an Australian intemet provider,
presented facts on how much information passes through their server daily.
“Our own network sees over 200,000 items of email between individuals every
day of the year, and this is increasing. In USENet news, the discussion areas’,
iiNet sees 150Mb of typed data every day, over 100,000 pages. This includes
people chatting idly, informational postings, questions, answers and anything
else that the committee can imagine people wishing to talk about.” (Senate
This is an example of one server, the information that passes through it
originates from all over the world. The point is that this one provider can not
possibly be able to review everything that passes through its server.
Should the internet be regulated? We know that it can’t and never will be
perfectly regulated and therefore the user will always need to be aware that he
is entering a global community and he may find some information offensive.
For example, one of the hottest issues which has been in the news is the
internet transmitting pornography. Individuals and companies do upload and
download pomography. It ranges from pictures of nude men and women to child
Many schools have adopted the idea of bringing computers into the classrooms.
“In the classroom, where youngsters are being introduced to the machines as
early as kindergarten, they astound-and often outpace-their teachers with their
computer skills.” (Golden, 219) Educating students about computer literacy is an
important aspect for the upcoming generation. Computer literacy will become just
as important for people to understand as reading, writing and arithmetic are.
With this increased ability at such a young age comes the the abilty to
access the net, and the places on the net that we as parents don’t want our
children going. Much the same as the ability to walk enables them to go places
they don’t belong.
The United States has laws which regulate pornography with a clear
understanding of the First Amendment, allowance for freedom of speech. There is
a difference between obscenity which is not protected by the First Amendment and
indecency which is!
The way the U.S. determines what is obscenity and what isn’t is by using the
Miller three part test to see if something is obscene or not. The test is listed
1. Would the average person, applying contemporary community standards’
find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient
2. Does the work depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual
conduct specificallydefined by the applicable state law?
3. Does the work, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic,
political, or scientific value?
As one might imagine it is complex enough trying to deem what is obscene and
what isn’t using this test. All three must be yes” in order to deem something
as obscene. Every state has different pomography laws based on this test
because every state has different community standards. Yet we deal with a
global metropolis, in which many people with different national standards exsist.
“National laws are just that, national in orientation and application. ”
If we are proposing regulating the internet to make it illegal to distribute
and receive obscene material we need to find a law that the world could agree on.
If the world accepted Miller’s test of how to determine obscene material, what
would be the standard needed in order to answer the first question?
These are the questions that are facing the government, providers, and users.
Many users are saying regulating the intemet is foolish and futile. A new act
introduced in the senate, called the Exon/Gorton Communications Decency Act
would give the government authority over what can and cannot be sent over the
internet and many users are lobbying voters to write their senators and ask them
not to vote for it, invoking the First Amendment.
Is anyone regulating the net? The answer is yes, the providers and some
universities are trying to regulate some things. Daniel C. Robbins, the author,
artist, and producer of the bondage, domination, submission, sadism, and
masochism web page, was told he would have to shut down his page by an
administrator of Brown University because of the content of his page. The web
page contained stories of married couples tying each other up to non-consensual
rape, torture, and murder as well as pictures and an interactive virtual reality
America Online (AOL) also has pulled people’s posts because of their content.
The reasoning is that these people have violated their Terms of Service
agreement which they make when they sign onto AOL. The terms of sevice agreement
for AOL states that members must restrain from using vulgarity and insulting
language, and from talking explicitly about sex. Immediately people cry
censorship and plead the First Amendment Rights! But in both cases, First
Amendment Rights did not apply. AOL is a private provider and has a right to let
who they want on the net and are breaking no laws for not allowing members to
have complete freedom of speech. The University as well has the right to say
what is received or sent on their server.
The government has started to take a stronger position regarding the
internet. Officials have investigated a few incidents concerning child
pornography, and have begun to investigate more obscene material being sent over
the net. Child pornography is defined as pictures or any visual form that show
minors, under the age of 18, in a sexual way. The material does not need to be
legally obscene in terms of the test stated above to deem it child pornography.
All child pornography is illegal and does not enjoy First Amendment rights.
Written marerial about children engaged in sexual acts does not apply to child
pornography, because the marerial has to use real minors. Drawings also do not
count as child pornography. It is easier to regulate against child pornography
because, in the U.S., just having possession of it is illegal.
Where-as a person can not be prosecuted for having other obscene material in
his home, if child pornography is found the person will be prosecuted. If one is
to upload child pornography, or obscene material for that matter, they can be
charged with transporting obscene material across state lines for distribution,
which is a crime. Officials, especially when it comes to comes to child
pornography, are starting to take as strong of a stand as they can.
The only reason the government could respond the way it has is because they
have been able to prosecute people in the U.S., mainly for downloading more than
uploading child pornography, because it is such a strong law in the U.S. This
has made some users concerned about whether they are involved in illegal
activity. The authors of Cyberspace and the Law have made a flow chart to
demonstrate what should and should not lead a user to legal problems. it points
out even more ominous than pornography ; electronic fraud.
“Computer crime can be enormously profitable.” (Logsdon, 162)
“The opportunities for creative fraud are vastly greater than they used to
be.”(Baig, Business week, Nov. 14, ’94)
Computer embezzlement can be very profitable with literally hundreds of
thousand of dollars right at their fingertips. Many computer embezzlers are not
caught, if they are, it is usually only by chance. Also those who embezzle and
are caught usually “escape prosecution because the institutions they rob prefer
to avoid the unfavorable publicity of a public trial.” (Logsdon,164-5)
The temptation is great for many who are computer geniuses.”The average
lifted in an embezzlement involving computers is $430,000-and it is not uncommon
for the total to go considerably higher.”(Logsdon, 163)
This leads to the question of trust and privacy. New technologies are being
developed to help protect citizens from fraud and give them a sense of privacy ,
but in the mean time consumers must remember the old adage: “If it sounds too
good to be true, it is!”
There are still many flaws that need to be worked out with the new computer
revolution. As someone had written in a usenet group on the Internet: “The
ultimate authority of a claim to my identity is me and my credibility.”(Internet
It is still up to the individual whether or not to believe what has been
said and by whom it was said.
Can the net be regulated? What is it that we want the internet to be for us
and our society? Is it safe to allow our children to play with a system that
adults do not fully understand and are not sure how to control? These are not
easy questions to answer. As the net grows, goverments will most certainly
become more involved, and regulation will most certainly follow. Most
importantly we as adults, parents and educators most find ways to teach our
children how to use this powerful tool constructively.
Granted, that’s not easy in today’s fast paced, two income, latch-key kids
society, it is imperative that we find a way. Maybe the answer is to take an
hour of television time, and devote it to computer literacy.(Then while we’re at
it let’s take another hour and read a book!) If that’s not possible, there are
ways to block out certain sites, much the same as the V-chip used on
televisions. These are readily available, many at no cost on the internet. This
allows us, as users to regulate what enters our home.
Y1.Harissam, Linda Global Networks1993 Mass. Institute of Technology 2.Fortner,
Robert International Communication 1993 Wadsworth, Inc. Belmont Calif 3.Senate
Select Committee on Community Standards 4.Robbins, Daniel Documents on Bondage
Web Page 5.Cavazos, Edward and Morin, Gavino Cyberspace and the Law 1994 Mass.
Institute of Technology 6.Turner Research Committee 7.Broadcast and Cable Nov. 6
Vol. 125 Berniker, Mark Internet begins to cut into TV viewing p.113 8.USA Today
Nov. 1 Linda Kanamine, Gamblers Stake out the Net cover story.