Why be against the Communications Decency Act?

My response

Some people may ask why I am against the CDA. I've seen some people want to rail about how it's not as bad as it seems, that it's for the general welfare of the country. To which I say, if we had a police state, how low would our crime rate be? But do we really want a police state? A situation that I think we are getting ourselves into.

I've heard too many self-claimed conservatives say that the CDA is good. Evidently I don't understand the difference between the current definitions of conservatives and liberals. I thought the conservatives were wanting to get Big Government out of peoples' lives. Yet here is a law that is extremely appearant that is very intrusive, very much against the 1st Amendment, and to be so vague as to be unenforceable.

Let's face it, the "indecent" verbage of the act has no legal definition. No definition is in the act itself. Everybody is just about agreed that profanity would be considered "indecent". But, right now, you can say Hell, damn, ass and pissed on radio. We are talking prime time radio here, not some late night shift. And we still get the occaisional "shit" or "fuck" during prime time radio and TV. Do they get slammed with 2 years in jail and a $250,000 fine? Hell, radio and TV are in it mostly for the money. Little ol' me is just putting up a page for the fun of it. No money making scheme here. But I certainly can be more greatly affected by it.

The Internet is an international network. What are the enforcement lines? If a 40 year old man from Norway decides to put a nude picture of his 16 year old lover on the Internet, would he expect to be extradited to the USA? I don't think he will, especially if in his country's eyes he has done nothing wrong. If anything, it will just force those people who want to publish "indecent" material on the Internet, or who are just afraid that whatever they put on the Internet will be "indecent", to set up on some Internet site that is in a country where they don't have such draconian laws. Then, what happens?

Since this will be totally unacceptable to those people who came up with the CDA, they will try to force the locking out of those "indecent" sites. The Internet was designed for the military so that if there was a problem in passing information from one site to another, it would consider that damage, and route around the damage. In other words, if someone tries to cut a particular site off, they may be successful in cutting that site off from some of the sites that connect to them, chances are that the sites will find a new routing solution to get around that particular site regardless. The only way that the government is going to control that is to completely isolate the Internet inside of the United States. We may as well call it the USnet at that point. But would that really stop it?

Right now, we now think of the Internet as this huge network of bizzare technical terms such as T1, ATM, FDDI, routers, PPP, switches and so on. The impact of all that technology is that now we get instant gratification. Now, I can see when you signed for that FedEx package I sent you. Not the day after, minutes after, if not sooner. There was a time when you were lucky to be able to get things instantaniously. A lot of stuff used to flowed through what is called UUCP, which stands for Unix-to-Unix Copy. This allows two computers to exchange information with each other, usually e-mail and newsgroups, but could also be used to grab files from another computer. This certainly isn't as fast as what we know consider the net, and it certainly isn't good for such things as the Web. But it's still plenty. And just because it is no longer a major player on the Internet, it could be very easily revived to get around an actual blockade. The Internet see censorship as damage and routes around it, one way or another.

But the real truth in the matter is that we can't afford to block ourselves off from the rest of the world. To do so would be of tremendous consequence to everyone. Cutting off communication for not only big multi-national companies, but affecting governments, both inside and outside of the U.S. I know of a Liberian national who would suffer by cutting his links to outside of the U.S. True, he still would have his fax unassaulted. But his communication outside this country would be limited extremely. If this happens, I fully expect Pat Buchannan to be elected President.

I have also seen some people mention that we should be blocking all .GOV and .MIL domains from accessing sites. I had to note with irony that one of these people had a .EDU domain e-mail address. We would also have to block .EDU because of the number of government supported universities and colleges on the net. Besides, as I have already noted above, the Internet will see it as damage and route around it.

I have heard much about how this law will protect children. I think we have to protect children to a degree. But if I want to protect a child from every bruise, scrape and broken bone, I won't let him or her go outside to play ever, or at least until they turn 18. This does not sound practical to me, nor do I suspect it would sound practical to much of the current U.S. population. I think the same analogy can be used on the Web. Do we really think we can keep indecency away from children? Are you going to sue the garage mechanic that let out an expletive because he pinched a finger repairing a car while you had your child with you to pick up your car?

Let me compare this to the road system of the U.S. Alot of children will play in the street, playing ball or ride a bike. This tends to be fairly safe as the speed limit is low enough to prevent most accidents, although running onto the street with on-coming traffic can be fatal. We also have roads were cars go 55 MPH (90KPH) or higher. These roads are designed that way and have safeguards to if not outright prevent, at least make it hard to keep both children and adults off of them. Applying the CDA to this would mean that instead of roads at 55 MPH with safegurads, everybody now has to drive at 25 MPH. Justice Frankfurter says it best in the quote on my homepage. Should we be makint the Internet fit only for kids?

I think parents have a right to control their kids' exposure to "indecency" to a degree, but the onus for controlling it should be on the parents. They are the ones who decided to have them. I have not entered into a social contract so that they can raise their children as they want, especially if it impacts me in any way. Why do I see it that way? Because, it interferes with how I would raise my children.

With this new law we put more restrictions on this new medium than anything before it. Why? I think it's due to the same old mentality against change that has persisted pretty much through the history of this country. Nothing makes electronic communications any different than drawings, photographs, letters, pamphlets, radio talk shows or television, with maybe the exception that it's pretty much two way instantaneous any more. My point is that the US Constitution does not differentiate between media, nor do I think it should.

I think the CDA has dubious goals and won't be held as constitutional. For those people who wish to cordone off themselves from parts of the Internet that they may find distastefull, let the marketplace create the tools for them to do so. Don't force everybody to the lowest common denominator, which is what this legislation really about.

Technically, while I've been discussing the CDA, I've been breaking it. I have used profanity on this particular page, which is considered a violation. How many times have I violated it? Once? Once for each word? Once for each time somebody hits it? Once per complaint? Is this page the only I've done about the CDA? No, it isn't. I have faxed members of Congress multiple times about this issue, both members of the commitees and my own Congress critters. I have received no response. Not even my own Congress critters have bothered to send a form letter, a fact that truly bothers me, and one I'll be remembering come election time. I've written President Clinton and at least recevied a card back thanking me for my input!

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Bryan Price / me@bryanlprice.com / 4/96