Defiantly Free

The Eyrie Anti-Censorship Statement
written by Russ Allbery
June 4, 1996

This essay was written back when the Communications Decency Act was first enacted in the United States. I took it down some time later after the CDA was largely overturned by the courts. It's rather strident and more alarmist than was perhaps warranted, but it's preserved here as-is for whatever it's worth. Links have been updated where possible, otherwise just removed. -- rra, 2004

On February 1st, 1996, the United States Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (S.652), which included provisions to declare illegal "indecent" speech on the Internet. This legislation included most of the key restrictions from the Communications Decency Act.

On February 8th, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law.

On February 8th, 1996, I joined thousands of other Internet users in turning all of my Web pages black for 48 hours in protest. This protest was covered by every major media outlet in the world, including 24 hours of coverage on CNN and national coverage from ABC World News Tonight.

On February 8th, 1996, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), in cooperation with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) and 16 other organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court to seeking declaration of the law as unconstitutional.

On February 8th, 1996, American users of the Internet discovered that their government intended to begin censoring on-line forums which had previously been havens of free speech. And, on February 8th, 1996, the United States government discovered that the users of the Internet intended to fight back.

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

— Thomas Jefferson

You may be wondering: "Why do I care? They're just after child pornography, smut, and dirty pictures. I don't want any of that stuff on the Internet either." Let me explain why I'm involved in this.

As you may already know, I maintain archives of on-line fiction, as well as resources to help writers who want to publish their works on-line. Not obscene stories and sexual fantasies (not that I believe there is anything wrong with either; those simply are not the archives I maintain), just fantasy, science fiction, and superhero-based fiction written by many different individuals and writing groups. The Eyrie is dedicated to that effort, and to a new way of writing and publishing literature that opens up exciting possibilities for collaborative stories, shared universes, and joint writing projects. Among the many stories I have archived, just as in any other large collection of stories, are some which use profanity. Some of my own, in fact.

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it is now illegal for me to distribute those stories.

This is not a joke. This is not a trivial threat. This cannot be ignored. The United States government is taking action to censor the largest communications medium in the world, to remove any speech, ideas, or words which some may find objectionable, and to dictate to you what you may and may not say.

"But," you might say, "I'm not an American. My government would never be that stupid." Don't be so sure. Police in Finland have already cooperated with the Church of Scientology, helping them attempt to suppress opinions critical to the Church. The public prosecutor in Munich, Germany, pressured CompuServe into temporarily closing down access to Usenet newsgroups deemed objectionable. Regardless of where you live, your ability to publish whatever you wish on the Internet is under attack.

The net poses a fundamental threat not only to the authority of the government, but to all authority, because it permits people to organize, think, and influence one another without any institutional supervision whatsoever.

— John Seabrook, "My First Flame"

The phenomenon that has become the Internet is absolutely unparalleled in the history of mankind. Never before have people from as many different cultures, as many different countries, and as many different backgrounds been united in a common forum. Never before has this much information been available at your fingertips. Never before have you been able to get raw opinions, arguments, and commentary from all over the world completely unfiltered by any government, publisher, or editor.

We cannot lose this freedom. This is potentially one of the most significant events in the history of human communication. Allowing people to interact with anyone else on the planet directly, to share any information they chose to make available regardless of the desires of publishers, and to freely access the largest databases in the world has the potential to radically change the nature of research, politics, publishing, and information retrieval. We cannot let the governments of the world shut down or control the Internet because of what they are afraid people will say.

The most persistent threat to freedom, to the rights of Americans, is fear.

— George Meany

Applying the oldest tactic used to control the populace, governments have attempted to make people afraid. They are attempting to make you afraid of what the Internet may be used for, afraid of child pornography or obscene stories sent to children. They then intend to exploit that fear to gain more power and control over what you can read, write, and think.

But fear feeds on ignorance.

You may have been told that these laws will help stop child pornography. But child pornography is already a federal crime in the United States and in almost all other countries as well. What possible additional good can it do to outlaw it twice?

You may have heard the fears that children will find inappropriate material on the Internet. There is a grain of truth in that; much of the information available on the Internet is not appropriate for children. But are you familiar with the ways you can control what your children see that require no intervention by the government at all? If not, read the Internet Parental Control FAQ; you may be surprised.

You may have been told that these laws will not affect any legitimate users of the Internet. Yet that is not true; I maintain a simple archive of stories posted to Usenet and these laws declare some of those stories to be illegal solely because they use words like "shit," words also found in the average paperback in a bookstore.

The government claims that these laws exist only to protect you and your children from criminals. That's entirely true -- if you consider James Joyce to be a criminal. Quotes from Ulysses are now illegal on-line.

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise that control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.

— Thomas Jefferson

I, and the Eyrie, remain committed to free speech on the Internet. The Eyrie supports the freedom of anyone to say what they choose, publish what they choose, and interact with whomever they choose, unfettered by government regulations. The Eyrie is a part of the largest communications network known to mankind, a network which is too big to be controlled by any one person or organization. A network which will not be controlled.

Those supposedly illegal words have not been removed from my archives. The Eyrie stands defiantly free.

If you are interested in these issues, there are some other things you should read.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Written by John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the day after President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Voter Telecommunications Watch

This organization was responsible for organizing the Web page protest referred to above, and provides a constant stream of extremely good information about current bills, regulations, and government actions related to telecommunications.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The web site of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the largest and most comprehensive on-line archives of information related to this topic.

Last spun 2021-09-25 from thread modified 2018-05-08