eye weekly
Thursday, December 26, 1996

Censorship Ahoy!

by Ingrind Hein iggi@odyssee.net

This year's Internet eyeLashes celebrate futile attempts to censor or ban material online. In 1996 politicians and Internet service providers (ISPs) managed to make some fairly ignorant moves trying to tell the public -- and themselves -- how and why the net should be censored.

Lloyd Axworthy, minister of foreign affairs and international trade, doesn't understand Internet information sharing very well. When he returned from a G-7 meeting in Paris, he told the press "My 11-year-old gets plugged into the computer and hits a few keys and all kinds of things show up." He said it "scares the bejeesus" out of him. You have to wonder where he's been surfing. And what does he have to fear? Hasn't he told his kids about the birds and the bees yet? Or was he hoping for health classes on the net?

Other politicians are just plain uncool. Sheila Copps pushed for the standardization of the V-chip so she could block shows "like The Simpsons". Of course, when she started making comments about what to restrict on the net, most civil libertarians just plugged their ears.

Information Gateway Services, an Ottawa-based ISP, pulled the plug on an "Anti Bouchard" webpage they deemed to be hate literature. Then, an Ottawa Citizen article quoted the investigating police officer as saying the material didn't fit the Criminal Code definition of hate propaganda. The web page owner ended up leaving the ISP.

Istar's Margo Langford managed to piss off quite a heap of people when she knocked 30 "controversial newsgroups" like alt.sex.bestiality off the ISP's server without telling anyone. However, when she circulated the message asking for the ban by email, it made its way into the hands of Electronic Frontier Canada's David Jones and ended up making news across the country. Other ISPs still carry the newsgroups.

Other censorship attempts around the world were equally futile. When the German government tried to block Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel's writings, which are banned under German law, net users around the world copied his material so it could still be accessed -- with the footnote "this is not my opinion" -- in protest.

Then Ernst Zundel used his own page to blast "vulgar, smutty, uncouth web sites" and urged his fellow "champions of white rights" to keep "disgusting images" off the net. So much for free speech, Ernie.

In February, the U.S. government passed the Communications Decency Act, which limits Internet postings to the sorts of things broadcast on network television. However, the act was challenged by civil libertarians, who have succeeded in getting one state court to strike it down.

Copyright © 1996 by All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.