Sir, - Being a user and an advocate of the Internet, I wish to add a little to your leading article, "The Policing Of Technology" (September 2nd). Although the article gave both sides of the argument for and against policing the Internet, I feel it fell a little short on the anti censorship side and the reasons for fighting legislation like the Exon amendment.
The Exon amendment, also known as the Common Decency Act or the CDA, was an addition to a Bill reforming the American telecommunications systems. The CDA was added to the Telecomms Bill 1996 as a last minute addendum by Senator Exon and two colleagues.
Part of the CDA was based on a law dating back to the 1800s (the Comstock Act) which forbade distribution of information on such topics as contraception and abortion via public services such as the postal system. Although never repealed, it was gradually relaxed and the surviving remains of this law were tacitly put to rest by the Roe v. Wade abortion case in the 1970s.
This hastily constructed amendment to the Telecoms Bill went unnoticed by much of Congress. A large number of members didn't even know it existed when they voted on the Bill itself. The result was that the amendment was signed into law earlier this year. Because of this law, it is no longer legal for the following to appear on the (American) Internet:
The King James Bible; medical textbooks; large quantities of Renaissance and similar art a large body of information pertaining to women's health issues, not restricted to the taboo subjects of abortion and contraception; AIDS awareness information; sexual counselling including sexual abuse counselling; and, of course (what the law was intended for), pornography. Does that seem like an acceptable loss of freedom for the sake of punishing a minority?
It is therefore understandable that the Electronic Freedom Foundation and their like are fighting to get this overruled. It, is simply too broad in its restrictions. Additionally it punishes the wrong people - the onus for ensuring that none of this illicit traffic occurs is on the providers of Internet service, which is akin to making Telecom Eireann responsible for people who make malicious phone calls.
As stated in the leading article, there has recently been a lot of negative reaction, much of it ill informed and alarmist, due to the unfortunate and unforgivable events in the news of late. However, it is in times like these that one should stop and consider reason, instead of giving free rein to emotion. It is far easier to pass an ill considered law than it is to repeal it. - Yours, etc.,
PS Anyone with Internet access who is interested in learning more about this and other Internet issues should visit http://www.eff.org