The Internet allows for the free, unfettered flow of information among peopleand this freedom poses problems for some people, as well as for some governments.
Some parents in particular are concerned about the kinds of material their children may come across on the Internet. It is extremely easy for children to come across pornographic pictures and material. And it's not just pornography that is a problem. There is a great deal of hate material, racist material, and violent material as well.
To try to solve this problem, Congress and other legislative bodies have tried to take steps to ban certain types of content from being available on the Internet and to ban libraries and other public facilities from allowing access to certain material. As a result of these efforts, controversial laws have been passed against online pornography. Sometimes the laws are overturned by the courts. For example, a law called the Communications Decency Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But sometimes the laws stand.
A technology solution is available as well. Parental control software can stop children from viewing objectionable material. The software can be installed on a single computer or a networkfor example, to block all computers at a library from viewing objectionable material.
Businesses are also concerned with the type of Internet material their workers are accessing over corporate networks. Displaying sexual material on computers in the workplace can be interpreted as sexual harassment and can lead to serious legal ramifications. Additionally, most companies simply don't want their workers accessing that material on company time. Some companies now lease filtering software. Instead of installing the software on individual computers, though, the software is installed on a server and checks all incoming Internet traffic to every computer in the company.
There is a dark side to blocking Internet content, though. Authoritarian and dictatorial governments such as China and Saudi Arabia block their citizens from reading material that the government finds objectionable but that citizens want to readfor example, news about democracy, religion, or dissent.
Many governments block websites, but the problem is particularly egregious in China. By some accounts, China has the world's second-largest number of Internet users, after the United States. China has the world's most sophisticated system for blocking Internet content, called "The Great Firewall of China" by some.
The government blocks an astonishing amount of content, sites, and even individual words. For example, researchers at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society checked more than 204,000 websites and found that China blocked more than 19,000 of them at some point. For example, the top 10 Google results returned after searching for "Tibet," "Taiwan China," and "equality" were all blocked. So were 8 of the top 10 results using the terms "democracy China" and "dissident China."
The government also blocks access to news sites; sites about religion; and many other types of sites, including universities such as Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.