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The Communications Decency Act

Copyright © 1997, 2008 by David E. Ross

To a large extent, the CDA has been superceded by other legislation and court decisions. However, my position on censorship — discussed below — remains unchanged.

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment I of the Constitution of the United States of America

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) was enacted to protect children from exposure to sex and violence (mostly sex) on the Internet. While many of the arguments over the CDA revolve around definitions of "indecent", restraint of free speech, and the impossibility of enforcing censorship of what resides in a server in another nation and what travels over a vast network of phone and data lines, my objection to the CDA is far more simple.

The CDA is another attempt by government to provide backbone to parents who have none. When parents are too weak-willed to tell their own children what clothes are appropriate, what TV shows are suitable, and what they can see on the Internet, they ask government to provide the necessary backbone through dress codes, V-chips, and the CDA. Well, my house does not need this protection.

My baby is 37 years old and living more than a 1,000 miles away. Her brother is 41. We certainly do not need the government dictating that the content of the Internet (or of TV) coming into my house should be suitable for a 9-year-old. (When we babysit our grandchildren, my wife and I carefully monitor what TV shows they watch and how they use our computers.)

Parents need to exercise control within their own homes and not depend on the government to stiffen their spines. They need strong index fingers on the "Off" buttons. They need to say "No" when children ask for the ISP passwords. Neither of my adult children — with homes of their own — do not ask on behalf of their children for the government to interfere with what electronic signals come into my house.

The whole concept of censorship contains a hypocritical paradox that should be unacceptable in a free society. The censor reads, views, or listens to a book, movie, recording, or Web page and decides that its content will corrupt other individuals. Yet somehow the censor is not corrupted by the experience. In a democracy, no one can claim such immunity from corrupting influences and then deny that the rest of us are equally incorruptible.

The comments by Rep. Tom Coburn (R, Oklahoma) about the TV broadcast of "Schindler's List" surely prove that neither governments nor politicians can be trusted to judge what expressions of culture or entertainment are suitable for the inhabitants of this nation.

3 December 2008

Apparently, the U. S. Supreme Court agrees with me. The justices declared key points of the CDS unconstitutional. Further, an interesting commentary in the Los Angeles Times explained why this whole issue made me uncomfortable: "Protecting our children" is merely a ruse; the real goal is to censor communications between adults.

30 June 1997

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