Original Message Posted in Multiple Lists
Republication is Authorized Only When Message is Kept Intact

FINS: Communicating the Emerging Philosophy of The Information Age
Vol IV, Issue No. 4 (117 lines) February 19, 1996


By Vigdor Schreibman

Control over sexual images and conduct is a form of political control, according to the late Michel Foucault in one of his last published works on "The History of Human Sexuality" (1978). This is one component of the search for total control  over Americans and their global cousins, envisioned under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Title V, "The Communications Decency Act" (CDA). The measure was recently approved with broad bipartisan support. In order to assert pervasive limitations on speech, the CDA, would make it a crime punishable by a two-year jail sentence, for the use of an interactive computer service "to display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age any ... communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs ..." The basis for such limitations on speech upon which CDA relies, is the need to protect minors, foud under the doctrine of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation , 438 US 726 (1978).

Nevertheless, Pacifica , was a case decided in the broadcasting context, "where the First Amendment has a special meaning." There are significant differences between the broadcasting context and the networking context in terms of: the size, composition, and specialized nature of audiences; the extent of intrusion into the privacy of homes; and the availability of electronic filtering programs to avoid unwanted materials. Broadcasting, pervasively penetrates almost all homes in any given community as a mass market, while networking serves the ultimate in de-massified markets, including over 13,000 highly focused Usenet discussion groups, as well as specialized electronic bulletin boards, online service provider chat rooms, and personalized Web sites. In the broadcasting context most programming is available to children through limited numbers of channels, except during nighttime hours, whereas, in the networking context program availability is widely differentiated. Moreover, filtering devices are readily available to enable parents to block unwanted network materials.

"Dirty words," which are banned by the CDA, are also "available" to minors in libraries, books and newspapers, but that would not allow the legislature to censor their "display" in such places or formats. The assertion in the CDA that whatever offensive materials might be available to minors over the Net can, thereby, be validly made into a criminal offense, is not serious. The broadcasting context of the Supreme Court's indecency doctrine is very different from either the library, newspaper, or networking context. No sane and reasonable Court would uphold the sweeping reach of the CDA, sought in the new telecom law.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), one of the few Senators who voted against the telecom "reform" measure, described the situation succinctly on the floor of the Senate, Feb 9, when he introduced a measure to repeal the CDA [S.1587]. Leahy stated, "The first amendment to our Constitution expressly states that 'Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.' The new law flouts that prohibition for the sake of political posturing."

Another, perhaps, more threatening component of the telecom reform measure is the search for total control  over the American people and their global cousins, through sweeping deregulation of the telephone companies, broadcasters, cable-TV, newspapers, book publishers, and computer-aided information networks. The result will be a new form of global technopoly with combined assets of almost 1-trillion dollars operating under the television model of communications in which manipulative infotainment, gratuitous violence, and exploitive sex are the dominant programmatic schemes adversely impacting upon the whole knowledge-base of humanity.

The purpose of this monster model of communications, combining conduit and content, is to assault the most sensitive sensory and cognitive faculties of human beings and, thereby, extract maximum profit through appeals that are entirely irrational but stunningly effective on a global scale. The recently released definitive study of national television violence shows this appalling strategy in action [Fins-PaN-26]. By these means total control  will likely be asserted over the images of reality (past and future) that govern the minds of human beings virtually everywhere on the Planet Earth. The movement toward total control,  whether implicitly or explicitly, has broad bipartisan support of both Republican and Democratic leaders. There were only 5 members who opposed the measure in the US Senate: Feingold, Leahy, McCain, Simon, and Wellstone. In the US House of Representatives only 16 members voted no: Abercrombie, Conyers, DeFazio, Evans, Frank (MA), Hilliard, Hinchey, Johnson (SD), Nadler, Peterson (MN), Sanders, Schroeder, Stark, Vollmer, Williams, and Yates. President Bill Clinton, with the strong support of Vice President Al Gore, signed the measure into law Feb 8, with great public fanfare [Pub. L. 104-104, 110 Stat 56 (1996)].

There obviously are better models for the Global Information Infrastructure that would support social equity and ecological integrity along with economic prosperity, which could be constructed within our means. Nevertheless, the rigged and lopsided legislative process that produced the enacted law shut out those possibilities. Citizens should assert that enlightened countervision for the future, providing a public lane on the infrastructure that can most likely empower the people and sustain the public goods that are essential to democracy, then fight for its enactment into law.

Iowa and New Hampshire are showing the power of the progressive populist message. Social equities have become key election issues. NPR commentator, Daniel Shore, observed, Feb 14, "Something seismic is happening out there."


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