Peaceful Uses of the Internet
Friday, February 17, 1995 by Dave Winer.
Imagine if, at the dawn of the nuclear age, a US Senator proposed a bill that required that all uses of nuclear technology be peaceful. The law would only be enforcable within the borders of the United States.
You could admire the spirit of the idea, but we all know it couldn't possibly have worked.
You'd have to conclude that the senator didn't understand how nuclear technology works.
Senator Jim Exon (D-NE) -- the man who proposed the Communications Decency Act of 1995 -- clearly doesn't understand how online technology works.
According to the Electronic Messaging Association, firstname.lastname@example.org, "In an effort to stamp out digital pornography, the act makes all telecommunications providers doing business in the United States (from the telephone companies all the way down to offices that use LANs) liable for the content of anything sent over their networks. To avoid the possibility of tens of thousands of dollars in fines and up to two years in jail, business owners would be forced to police their networks and monitor in advance all messages sent over them."
I understand that there's actually a serious possibility that this legislation will pass. In preparation, I was going to suggest that we all establish dial-in accounts to Internet nodes in Canada or Mexico. But even that won't work. The phone companies would be liable for the content of our calls out of the country.
No one is going to be willing to assume responsibility for other people's postings. We have a shortage of connectivity right now. This will make it impossible for the new industries, that we need, to develop.
Senator Exon doesn't get it. The net is a global thing. The US Senate can't control it. Australia is almost as close as Sausilito. The US is just one country. He doesn't get to say what goes on the net.
But he can keep Americans from using the net.
Think about it folks. How much value do you place on electronic mail? What would you do if two months from now you can't do email anymore? You don't think it can happen? The experts think you're wrong.
This bill would devastate the US online industry, which is already suffering from great growing pains. And it totally fucks the people of the United States who want to be online.
Let's stop this madness, ASAP.
PS: Aside from that, Exon's goal is offensive. He doesn't say the Internet should only be used for peaceful purposes, he says we can't talk about sex on the Internet. I guess Senator Exon is a tough customer too.
PPS: What's the answer? We need legislation that says that all our rights to free speech guaranteed under the Constitution apply to speech on electronic networks.