Help me sift through the deluge of potential topics!
February 26, 2007 3:07 PM   Subscribe

What do you feel is the biggest case, or group of cases, concerning online censorship and a breach of first ammendment rights to happen in the past five years?

I'm writing a paper for Communication Ethics and Law class, and I've narrowed my potential topics to one: Internet censorship. But I'm really struggling to find a particular case or group of cases to focus on (there's just so much!) I can't just blab on and on for 5 pages about how bad I think censorship is -- I need to discuss the specific ethical/legal implications of a particular case or group of cases. Any ideas?

P.S. By "case," I don't necessarily mean "court case." I mean "instance" or "example."
posted by fvox13 to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's easy: the McCain/Feingold law. We've narrowly escaped having it be applied to blog posts, for instance.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:16 PM on February 26, 2007


It's been bouncing around for more than 5 years, but the CDA / COPA / COPPA line of statutes and corresponding cases highlight your issues pretty well. And given the extensive back-and-forth between Congress and the Supreme Court, you'll definitely have enough to write about; there's been some litigation over McCain / Feingold, but it's still pretty new.
posted by rkent at 3:33 PM on February 26, 2007


Ya gotta love a good Tucker Max story [1,2,3].
posted by Durin's Bane at 3:37 PM on February 26, 2007


Hey, what do you know, the Tucker Max story was on Metafilter.
posted by Durin's Bane at 3:43 PM on February 26, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste, can you provide a source for your claim that McCain-Feingold was almost applied to blog posts? Because I don't think that's remotely true. A few people made noise, and nothing came close to happening.
posted by raf at 4:15 PM on February 26, 2007


I'm with raf on this one. A then member of the Federal Elections Commission who was openly hostile to all election spending regulation, Bradley Smith, alleged that it might happen in an article in Wired. That was it. But people got all worked up and started to believe that McCain-Feingold was going to stop them blogging--which is exactly what Smith wanted--to turn the left against McCain-Feingold.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:53 PM on February 26, 2007


Uh, there was zero chance of a campaign finance law ever being applied to anything other than paid activities on behalf of a political campaign. That's what, 0.0000001% of the speech in the United States? Not exactly a major issue, although the law *was* fought on First Amendment grounds (and upheld by the Supreme Court).

If you're looking only for laws: the CDA and COPA are direct U.S. government morality-based censorship laws. Both had associated litigation, of course.

If you branch out a bit, you can look at the government mandating the use of censorware in schools and libraries, and the litigation surrounding that.

Getting a bit further afield, you can examine the effects of the DMCA, whose takedown provisions provide a strong incentive for service providers to take down any content which is challenged, resulting in de facto censorship of materials which violate no law. Some of the effects are chronicled here.

You can look at the kiddie porn laws, which have had plenty of ludicrous results.

For more interesting things, you can look at Google removing search results for various reasons: DMCA, Chinese government (Chinese dissent), German government (Nazi stuff), and so on.

Look at the history of the .xxx domain (which Congress has proposed several times as a place for porn to be confined to).

I personally find the direct censorship issues to be rather boring. Censorship can be a much more subtle animal in the edge cases.
posted by jellicle at 5:10 PM on February 26, 2007


The decision that (US, public) libraries had to filter children's internet access or lose federal funding - which meant that adults using the same computers were denied their First Amendment rights b/c they had access to constitutionally-protected sites blocked. [Yeah, I'm a librarian, but I think it's a good example. Hopefully Jessamyn will comment].
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:31 PM on February 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


jellicle: Getting a bit further afield, you can examine the effects of the DMCA, whose takedown provisions provide a strong incentive for service providers to take down any content which is challenged, resulting in de facto censorship of materials which violate no law. Some of the effects are chronicled here.

I'm with you in spirit, but First Amendment challenges to copyright stuff just don't fly. I really disagree with the current jurisprudence, but the Supreme Court is basically not willing to consider any sort of copyright enforcement to be a prior restraint or other First Amendment violation. Unless, fvox, you can just take a situation and make all the 1st Am/censorship arguments around it, notwithstanding what the actual law is (which might be a cool project).
posted by rkent at 6:01 PM on February 26, 2007


From my constitutional law and cyberlaw classes, I'll agree with jellicle and rkent that what leaps to mind, where there's been a lot of action in the past five years in Congress and the Supreme Court, is the issue of child pornography.

As I recall, and this Frontline summary seems to agree, one of the many cases entitled Ashcroft v ACLU was the main case in this back-and-forth.

You say you're not just looking for court cases, but there's plenty of, um, court cases to pick at there if you find the legal and policy issues interesting.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:24 PM on February 26, 2007


I really think the cases stemming from COPA and related redrafts of that law are the best answer, so I third or fourth it. It is so easy to start straying into copyright or DMCA stuff when discussing law and the Internet, but COPA is purely First Amendment jurisprudence applied in the online context and it includes multiple lines of inquiry and discussion, making it perfect for a paper (since you have lots of options on what to talk about and how to approach it). It is also ridiculous, so you can have fun pointing out all its faults and unconstitutionalities.
posted by Falconetti at 10:21 PM on February 26, 2007


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