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Over the last decade there has emerged a relatively widely shared view of the importance of the health of cyberspace. Although there has been considerable agreement that the health of cyberspace is important, there is a lack of consensus about what steps to take to maintain or improve the health of cyberspace.
Responses from the survey of 100 name-brand companies conducted for this book illustrate some of the social and cultural obstacles that exist when actions are considered to regulate the Internet. Respondents were asked about what they felt were the greatest benefits that the Internet provides society. Overwhelmingly, access and speed of access to information was the main theme of responses to this question. Of the 90 responders to the question, 76 referred to access to information as one of the greatest benefits of the Internet.
Survey participants were also asked what they felt were the worst things that the Internet enables in society. Interestingly, 32 of the 91 respondents commented that the access to information was the worst thing that the Internet enables. Basically, one can conclude that the respondents feel that when information is used by good people for good things, then access is good, but if information is used by bad people for bad things, then access is bad.
Although there is a high level of personal dilemma about the good and the bad of the Internet, only 8 percent of the survey respondents felt that content and activity on the Internet should be regulated by the government. Overwhelmingly, 59 percent responded that content and activity on the Internet should not be regulated by the government. Meanwhile 15 percent were undecided.
The global nature of the Internet means that the view of the health of cyberspace must be shared well beyond the borders of the United States and other computer-dependent nations. In the case of the 'I Love You' virus in 2000, the common view was that the government of the Philippines did not move quickly enough in the global interest when apprehending the suspect in the case. It took several days for Philippine law enforcement to apprehend the suspect, although it was determined that he could have been responsible for the incident.
It is also important to note that even when there is a shared view among groups of people, action may be difficult to achieve. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, for example, contained section 501, The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, much of which was overturned by the federal courts shortly after the act was passed. The act would have made it a crime to transmit knowingly any communication accessible to minors that is considered 'obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent' and would have also prevented any publicity of abortion services. Punishment was to include a sentence of up to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
In June 1996, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia ruled parts of the act unconstitutional. This decision was appealed by the U.S. Justice Department. On June 26, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the district court judges that the CDA was unconstitutional. The judges considered that it lacked the precision that the First Amendment requires when a statute regulates the content of speech. In order to deny minors access to potentially harmful speech, the CDA effectively suppressed a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another. That burden on adult speech is unacceptable if less restrictive alternatives would be at least as effective in achieving the legitimate purpose that the statute was enacted to serve.
Basically, the first substantial effort of the U.S. Congress to regulate the Internet, the CDA, was met with outrage. Among other actions taken by opposing groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation launched the Blue Ribbon Campaign, a call for Internet users to protest against the intended legislation by displaying the anticensorship Blue Ribbon on their pages. It was a heated social and cultural debate about regulating the Internet, and that debate still rages around the world. It is an issue that will not be resolved any time soon. It also shows that the achievement of a universal consensus on the health of cyberspace is far away from realization.
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