The writers of the U.S. constitution specifically included freedom of speech and freedom of the press to ensure that the government would never be capable of restricting information. Today governments around the world effectively use censorship to control civilians and reduce foreign threats. The old adage "you don't know what you don't know" sums up the rationale used by governments to censor information in the name of protecting citizens and maintaining civil order. However, what you don't know about the Internet can hurt you. The United States government weighs the right of free speech against the need to regulate websites to protect people and businesses.
Communication is necessary to organise political takeovers. Governments must control external and internal communication capabilities to reduce threats of social rebellion. The Internet is an ideal media outlet for providing foreign information and viewpoints that could spark a rebellion. Some governments censor the Internet, including e-mail, blogs and websites, for content on topics such as antigovernment sentiment, human rights and radical social opinions.
China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba
The governments of China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba are known to censor the Internet content their citizens can view. Chinese are not allowed to view information about Tibet. Much of the international community support the movement to free Tibet from Chinese rule, so the Chinese government does not want its people to obtain information and form opinions that run contrary to its interest in controlling Tibet.
The Saudi Arabian government restricts information pertaining to women's rights. It believes that Western ideas about social equality for women run contrary to Islamic laws mandating women's roles in the family structure and society.
The Cuban government censors and controls Internet usage. Cubans must use government-controlled access points to browse the Internet. The Cuban government monitors users' browsing history and only permits pro-government bloggers and government employees to upload original content to the Internet.
Civilians with access to outside viewpoints can compare and evaluate standards of living. Personal freedom includes the right to access information and to form opinions and make personal decisions based on as much information as possible. Censorship is disadvantageous for civilians seeking knowledge to explore a broad range of ideas, concepts and ways of life that might contradict their government's interests.
The Internet provides consumers with a wide range of products and services. Unfortunately, the online market place is an ideal environment for illegal activity. The United States Chamber of Commerce supports Senate Bill S3804: Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. The bill would give the U.S. government the power to shut down sites that knowingly violate copyright laws.
The Chamber believes businesses and consumers are at risk from widespread counterfeit and fraudulent activity. Free speech advocates object to the bill's vague wording and say that sites such as YouTube and blogs that utilise online media articles could become targets under this legislation. The bill could be a gateway to allow government greater control over the Internet.
- Committee to Protect Journalists: Top 10 Countries that Censor the Internet; Lilkty
- Duke University: Censorship: For Our of For Our Government's Protection?; Christie Herring and Ellie Morris
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Letter Supporting S3804, the "Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act"; R. Bruce Josten; September 21, 2010
- Open Congress: Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act
- The Hill: Clinton Slams Rising Trend of Internet Censorship; Gautham Nagesh; April 8, 2011