In writing this essay I aim to give an insight into one of, if not the most important issue on the Internet today, that of censorship. I will first give a brief outline as to how the Internet came about and how it works, as this is needed to understand how the Internet can or cannot be censored. I will also give reasons why governments and individuals want to censor the Internet, attempts that have been made, and why people are opposed to these attempts at censorship. Lastly I will outline if censorship of the Internet is practicable or achievable and give my own viewpoint. According to (Kristula 1997) the beginnings of the Internet can be traced back to 1969. APRA (The Advanced Research Projects Agency) a division of the American Department of Defence created a network of four servers called the APRANET. Its purpose was to decentralise information on the network so that in the event of a nuclear war information would still flow over the network. Information passed around it until it reached its destination, it was not necessary to follow any particular route. It is this key point the fact that there is no one place through which all information passes that, as I will explain in more detail later makes censorship difficult if not impossible. The network expanded in size and speed as technological advances continued over the next twenty years. Standards began to emerge for instance the TCP/IP protocol for transmission of data over the network. HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) the standard way in which to send and receive Internet documents had come about by 1990. Four years later the APRANET was disbanded, this evolved further with in excess of three million computers being connected together to form a public network now known as the Internet. The Internet continues to grow at a massive rate everyday, with figures of the number of people connected being obsolete before they even have a chance to be published. This rapid growth caught many people by surprise the main feature of the early Internet was the complete freedom from censorship, and its true democratic ideal. In the words of (Sterling 93) the Internet is a rare example of a true, modern, functional anarchy...there are no official censors, no bosses, no board of directors, no stockholders...no central authority . However by the mid 1990 s governments and other groups began to show an interest becoming concerned with the unrestricted flow of data and potential of the Internet. As mentioned above groups concerned with censorship of the Internet fall broadly into two categories, governments and organised groups of individuals. There are a number of reasons governments want to censor the Internet: 1) To stop pornography, both access of obscene material by children and the distribution of paedophile material. 2) To limit discussion of political and/or religious matters, Zambia banned an on-line edition of an opposition newspaper, and imprisoned the editors for criticising the government. 3) To counteract misinformation , some governments actively pursue people involved in what they consider to be deliberate subversive misinformation campaigns designed to undermine the government. 4) To protect cultural boundaries. With the U.S. domination of the Internet and the subsequent prevalence of the English language, the French government has for instance passed a law declaring that all sites must be in French. 5) To stop hate speech and groups, in Germany Anti-Semitism is illegal the government has made numerous attempts to ban neo-nazi sites. 6) To limit the spread of subversive knowledge, this mainly covers sites promoting terrorism, which can include information on making bombs etc. 7) To enforce legal rulings, the Internet can and has been used to circumvent rulings concerning the British Official Secrets Act. (Global Censorship 99) As far as organised groups of individuals are concerned, by far the most important reason for censoring the Internet...
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Duarte, D.R. Internet Censorship http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Gallery/3702/censor.htm
Gates, B. (1996). The Road Ahead New York, Penguin Books.
Kristula, D. (1997) The History of the Internet http://www.davesite.com/webstation/net-history.html
Mattos, J. (1997) The CDA Before the Court http://pathfinder.com/@sAbDXgQAlb0upRm2/time/daily/1997/970319/970319-1.html
Global Censorship http://ils.unc.edu/global_censor
Sterling, B. (1993). Short History of the Internet. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
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