By Doug Newman
(I originally wrote this on November 18, 1999. I am recycling it now with just a few tweaks as Congress is debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Internet Protocol Act.)
For several years, the American Library Association has celebrated Banned Books Week as a condemnation of censorship. Although we have fun with the subject, such books as Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and even the Bible have, at various times and places, been banned due to their perceived “offensive” content. Will there someday be a “Banned Web Sites Week?” I cannot help thinking this in the aftermath of my experience with a “filtered” internet service.
I will not mention the name of this ISP. The salesman who signed me up is a decent Christian man. When I discontinued the service, the technical staff was most polite while helping me purge the blocking software from my computer. I am all about promoting decency on the internet and in every aspect of society. I have considerable fears, however, about the implications of state control of the internet.
Ostensibly, this ISP’s filtering policy was directed at pornographic sites and those promoting hate and violence. I signed up to help someone who was in my leads group at the time. However, after signing up with the service I realized that their blocking criteria were far more comprehensive, and included “politically active” sites. They had a “report a site” link on their home page, where anyone who objected to a certain site could report that site for blocking consideration.
I do not know what this company’s official protocol was for blocking web sites. It seemed as if all it took was for someone to get dissed, e-mail the home office, and — bammo! — the offending site was blocked. Oh sure, you could have a site unblocked, but it was rather cumbersome. I tremble to think of the implications if the federal government were in a similar business.
Considering that so many Christians get their information from the mainstream media and from Christian leaders who have sold out to the secular state, I cannot help thinking that the whole blocking process was very arbitrary. Anyone with an understanding of our Constitution knows that the following sites are quite innocuous in nature. However, they were among the blocked sites.
- The Separation of School and State Alliance Rather than fighting over such things as school prayer, condoms, dress codes and evolution/creation, this organization seeks to separate school and state altogether, thereby making these issues non-political.
- Irwin Schiff’s home page Author and talk show host Irwin Schiff has had a standing offer for years to pay $5000 to anyone who can cite the specific statute requiring us to pay income tax. He has never had to pay the $5000.
- John Birch Society For many years I, too, ridiculed them. However, thirty-@^$# years of living have convinced me that these guys are on to something.
- The Drug Policy Alliance A lot of Christians would rather let people suffer excruciating pain, or even die, than cast off their smelly little orthodoxies about the totally godless and unconstitutional war on drugs, and allow people legal access to remedies which may actually help them.
- The Ludwig von Mises Institute A wonderful free-market think tank at Auburn University. I guess some folks are still fighting World War I.
And the blocked link, which finally prompted me to cancel the service:
- Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership On what grounds did they block this? Please do not tell me that JPFO is a supremacist group. More likely, this site was blocked out of abject ignorance of events in Germany from 1933-45.
I have long maintained that control freaks in the government, media, education, and other institutions hate three things: guns, cash, and cars. All three confer autonomy on the individual. Guns enable us to defend ourselves against those who would do violence against us, including governments. Cash transactions cannot be tracked by those who would monitor every aspect of our lives. Cars enable us to travel where we want when we want without having to ask permission. Control freaks just cannot stand the fact that not everyone lives their life in a bovine, politically correct fashion.
Let me add a fourth item to the hate list: the internet. The power of the major broadcast entities (ABC, CBS, NBC, the major newspapers, etc.) has been declining for years. First, competition came from cable TV. Then came talk radio, a medium to which you can talk back. Now, with the internet, anyone of modest financial means can broadcast their views worldwide. This drives control freaks nuts. And not only liberal control freaks.
Conservatives have long believed that government is necessary to preserve morality and decency. Contemporary mainstream conservatives seem united only in their disdain for the Clinton administration. They have few if any convictions when it comes to anything else, especially thwarting the growth of the state. Not only did they learn nothing from alcohol prohibition, as evidenced by their jihad against drugs, they are willing to acquiesce in all manner of restrictions on our freedoms. They prefer that the political game be played between the 40-yard lines.
Their party, the Republicans, supports “reasonable” gun control. Republicans valiantly opposed KlintonKare when they were a congressional minority, but support increased federal involvement in health care now that they are a majority. Since Republicans have had majorities in the House and Senate, the growth of government has continued unabated. Mainstream – i.e., non-principled – conservatives rarely ask whether or not the state should be involved in a certain issue. They just support only about 98 percent as much state involvement as do liberals.
Liberals are at least semi-honest in their beliefs about the role of government. Perhaps this is why they frustrate me less than conservatives. Conservatives claim not to follow trends, yet they are just as susceptible as liberals to the reigning political philosophy of our time, which might be summarized as: If it sounds good, the government should do it!
Government efforts at everything from ending poverty to stopping people from gambling away their houses have their roots here. It does not matter whether or not these efforts bear fruit. They sound so good. Shoring up our nation’s morals sounds like a good thing. (And it is, as long as it is done by the private sector.) If web censorship is what it takes, then so be it. Our moral superiors will lecture us that, “It is the price we must pay.”
The filtered web service which I cancelled was not involved in censorship. It could not have been. Only the government can ultimately shut down a web site. All the service was saying was that they would not transmit certain material. This is just as acceptable as someone forbidding cigarette smoking in their house, refusing to rent to couples living together out of wedlock, or a radio station refusing to broadcast Howard Stern.
No program is imposed by government on society at large, but by individuals or private entities in their own sphere of influence. People are free to smoke, fornicate, or listen to Stern’s scatological blather elsewhere. Likewise, I had the option to change web providers, and I exercised it.
With a censored internet, you might still have the option to change providers, but your freedom to view what you wanted to view would be limited by force of law. And just as many victimless activities are illegal now, many web sites (such as those linked to above) would be verboten. Why? Because some pressure group somewhere got hot and bothered and proceeded to influence the right people to ban those pages.
If one company can block certain web sites because certain clients do not like them, what would the government do if it had similar power? The Constitution is under daily assault by people who have sworn an oath to support and defend it. What are the ramifications for our Constitution if sites dedicated to the literal meaning of it are banned because of the fleeting passions of this or that interest group? Whatever they are, they are not good.
Either our Constitution means what it says, or it does not. “Interpreted” versions of it, whether from the ACLU or the Christian Coalition, trivialize its meaning. The internet is the greatest thing yet for firm believers in the Constitution to come together and to re-introduce others to this awesome document. Let us not succumb to the passions of the moment. Let us vigorously resist attempts to censor the internet.
WHY WE MUST STOP SOPA - CRITICALLY IMPORTANT ARTICLE!!!
For more information on the Stop Online Privacy Act on the Protect Internet Protocol Act.
And while the presenter here may be a bit abrasive, his points are powerful.