Related link: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,59359,00.html
So finally, after about three tries, Congress gets a censorship law past the Supreme Court. The narrow tailoring and careful wording that made possible this victory for John McCain and other supporters fails to filter out a host of difficulties, partly because blocking software does a lousy job, and partly because the definition of the banned content is subjective. (That’s why censorship has traditionally depended on local “community standards.”)
This law is a bit like a ban on “partial-birth abortions,” targeting such a broad and poorly defined range of practices that it causes everybody to shy away from the risk of prosecution.
But what it all comes down to is the question: who determines what is permitted and what is blocked? Some would say, “Wait till you’re eighteen and then ask for sites to be unblocked.” But we also know that the FBI wants to record the books we’ve read–tracking someone who accesses a controversial web site is likely to follow. After all, some of the September 11 flyers used public library Internet access.
An important precedent has been set. With the legal and technical infrastructure in place, all the government has to do is add more and more to the banned content. I fully expect Attorney General Ashcroft to decide it’s ridiculous to prohibit access to cavorting nudes but permit access to sites that advocate acts of violence against the United States. And thus the merry ride begins.
Many European countries ban hate speech. We have not taken that route yet in the United States, understanding how it muddies the discourse about free speech, but the sword is poised above us.
Is this a turning point?