Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning? -- ACLU on labeling (fwd)

Declan McCullagh declan at well.com
Fri Aug 8 00:38:02 PDT 1997

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 7 Aug 1997 22:18:06 -0700 (PDT)
From: Declan McCullagh <declan at well.com>
To: fight-censorship-announce at vorlon.mit.edu
Subject: Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning? -- ACLU on labeling



                             Fahrenheit 451.2:
                           Is Cyberspace Burning?
                     How Rating and Blocking Proposals
                   May Torch Free Speech on the Internet
     Executive Summary
     Is Cyberspace Burning?
     Free Speech Online: A Victory Under Siege
     Rethinking the Rush to Rate
     Recommendations and Principles
     Six Reasons Why Self-Rating Schemes Are Wrong
     Is Third-Party Rating the Answer?
     The Problems With User-Based Blocking Software in the Home 
     Why Blocking Software Should Not Be Used by Public Libraries
     Appendix: Internet Ratings Systems  How Do They Work?
     Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning?
     How Rating and Blocking Proposals May Torch Free Speech on the
    Executive Summary
     In the landmark case Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court overturned the
     Communications Decency Act, declaring that the Internet deserves
     the same high level of free speech protection afforded to books and
     other printed matter.
     But today, all that we have achieved may now be lost, if not in the
     bright flames of censorship then in the dense smoke of the many
     ratings and blocking schemes promoted by some of the very people
     who fought for freedom.
     The ACLU and others in the cyber-liberties community were genuinely
     alarmed by the tenor of a recent White House summit meeting on
     Internet censorship at which industry leaders pledged to create a
     variety of schemes to regulate and block controversial online
     But it was not any one proposal or announcement that caused our
     alarm; rather, it was the failure to examine the longer-term
     implications for the Internet of rating and blocking schemes.
     The White House meeting was clearly the first step away from the
     principle that protection of the electronic word is analogous to
     protection of the printed word. Despite the Supreme Court's strong
     rejection of a broadcast analogy for the Internet, government and
     industry leaders alike are now inching toward the dangerous and
     incorrect position that the Internet is like television, and should
     be rated and censored accordingly.
     Is Cyberspace burning? Not yet, perhaps. But where there's smoke,
     there's fire.
     The ACLU has always favored providing Internet users, especially
     parents, with more information. We welcomed, for example, the
     American Library Association's announcement at the White House
     summit of The Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents and Kids,
     a "comprehensive brochure and Web site combining Internet
     terminology, safety tips, site selection advice and more than 50 of
     the most educational and entertaining sites available for children
     on the Internet."
     In Reno v. ACLU, we noted that Federal and state governments are
     already vigorously enforcing existing obscenity, child pornography,
     and child solicitation laws on the Internet. In addition, Internet
     users must affirmatively seek out speech on the Internet; no one is
     caught by surprise.
     In fact, many speakers on the Net provide preliminary information
     about the nature of their speech. The ACLU's site on America
     Online, for example, has a message on its home page announcing that
     the site is a "free speech zone." Many sites offering commercial
     transactions on the Net contain warnings concerning the security of
     Net information. Sites containing sexually explicit material often
     begin with a statement describing the adult nature of the material.
     Chat rooms and newsgroups have names that describe the subject
     being discussed. Even individual e-mail messages contain a subject
     The preliminary information available on the Internet has several
     important components that distinguish it from all the ratings
     systems discussed above: (1) it is created and provided by the
     speaker; (2) it helps the user decide whether to read any further;
     (3) speakers who choose not to provide such information are not
     penalized; (4) it does not result in the automatic blocking of
     speech by an entity other than the speaker or reader before the
     speech has ever been viewed. Thus, the very nature of the Internet
     reveals why more speech is always a better solution than censorship
     for dealing with speech that someone may find objectionable.
     It is not too late for the Internet community to slowly and
     carefully examine these proposals and to reject those that will
     transform the Internet from a true marketplace of ideas into just
     another mainstream, lifeless medium with content no more exciting
     or diverse than that of television.
     Civil libertarians, human rights organizations, librarians and
     Internet users, speakers and providers all joined together to
     defeat the CDA. We achieved a stunning victory, establishing a
     legal framework that affords the Internet the highest
     constitutional protection. We put a quick end to a fire that was
     all but visible and threatening. The fire next time may be more
     difficult to detect  and extinguish.
     The principal authors of this white paper are Ann Beeson and Chris
     Hansen of the ACLU Legal Department and ACLU Associate Director
     Barry Steinhardt. Additional editorial contributions were provided
     by Marjorie Heins of the Legal Department, and Emily Whitfield of
     the Public Education Department. This report was prepared by the
     ACLU Public Education Department: Loren Siegel, Director; Rozella
     Floranz Kennedy, Editorial Manager; Ronald Cianfaglione, Designer.
             Copyright 1997, The American Civil Liberties Union

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