Protecting Innocent Adults Online
July 21, 2004
How can you disagree with a Greenville News editorial that says we should protect innocent children while they use the Internet? Of course, we should. But, why do it by punishing innocent adults?
When Congress passes a law with the appealing name of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), all adults need to beware. This law allows the government to fine us up to $50,000 per day with a maximum jail time of six months.
Why? Because the government believes that the commercial information any one of us may put online is harmful to minors.
The editorial welcomes these penalties because it only envisions porn operators (defended by the ACLU) paying these fines and serving the jail time. However, this is a simplistic view of COPA, the Internet and the ACLU.
COPA does not even define porn operator because it can't. Each community has its own local standards for defining pornography according to federal obscenity laws. Which community should the Internet pick as its standard - the community here in the Upstate or the one in Las Vegas?
Since website owners cannot determine where users are geographically located, they would be forced by COPA to follow the most restrictive standards to avoid possible jail time and fines. Can you imagine an Internet using the strict obscenity standards of Bob Jones University to avoid legal prosecution?
With COPA, government officials will preside over the entire Internet under the guise of protecting children and decide what websites are harmful and obscene.
It could be an official like U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft whose Justice Department hid the exposed breast of a statue (called The Spirit of Justice, ironically) from public view. Would a website with Michelangelo’s Statute of David be harmful to minors according to the standards of Aschcroft's Justice Department?
Recently, S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster took it upon himself to pick and choose what music CDs should be given to our libraries as part of a music industry legal settlement. He did so without any public hearing and without consulting library officials. Consequently, our libraries did not get music CDs that may have interested some library members. Would McMaster judge a website of rap music to be a danger to our children?
With attorney generals like these, COPA could be used to intimidate website owners and stop adult communications on the Internet because minors may come across them. How can there be websites about Art, sexual health and advice, or the political profanity of vice presidents without the risk that they could be considered harmful to minors?
Some may say that such websites only need to require adult registration so that children could not access them. That is unrealistic because how do you confirm that the person registering is actually an adult? Like geographical location, websites cannot verify the age of users. And, why should adults have to register to read or exchange constitutionally protected information because they happen to be on the Internet? Our constitutional rights do not go away when we sign on.
Unlike the editorial editors at The Greenville News, the ACLU and the American Society of Newspaper Editors do not want a federal law that allows government officials to censor the online information we are getting in our homes and using our own children as their excuse. We believe that parents should be responsible for the minors in their home when it comes to computer access. Why have government officials screen Internet access for everyone when parents can do it for their own children?
The "menacing reach of pornography" feared by The Greenville News is not as menacing as a government reaching into our homes and deciding what part of the Internet we should see and read. Instead of demanding that "the Supreme Court should get out of the way so innocent children can be given the protection they deserve," a newspaper dependent upon free speech should be demanding that our government stay out of our homes.
The Internet is a vast democratic flow of ideas and images that is a virtual show of our constitutional liberty in action. By letting government officials interrupt this show, we are harming the constitutional rights that our children will appreciate and respect when they get older and become innocent adults.