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The Clarity of Free Speech

March 6, 2008   The American Civil Liberties Union is a really incredible organization, and their president showed up to address legislative threats to the unprecedented open platform for free speech that the Internet provides (I sought no government or regulatory approval in writing this piece, nor did I have to go through an institutionalized media corporation).  She was funny and quite convincing.  The anecdotal aspects of the ACLU's war on the ground for free speech were worth the entire presentation.  Cases involving blatant censorship are surprisingly prevalent.  The bill allowing for the complete control of the Internet in the name of protecting children was particular surprising.  I never knew something so far-reaching was already in effect.  It is only the ACLU that keeps the law from changing the nature of our personal relationships with the internet.  They are the barrier between us and a shuttered web future.  Yet, I typically imagine the Nazi book-burning scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when pressed to come up with a clear example of censorship.  It is important, and frustrating, to be reminded that the problems of overt censorship are far from extinct.

The one aspect of Internet censorship I'm surprised Nadine Strossen did not address was the sneaky new ways that the Internet can be monitored and altered in the future.  The State Department's subpoena of search records, ostensibly to catch child pornographers, comes immediately to mind.  Additionally, the NSA's wiretapping, while not censorship in a blatant way, instills a culture that discourages free communication, while promoting paranoia and fear of a nebulous overseer.  Additional political manueverings could result in the end of Internet neutrality, halting the incredible free speech afforded by the Internet's open exchange of ideas on a level playing field.  Of course, the threat of direct censorship is very real, and Nadine Strossen raising awareness into these possibilities can only stimulate people to pursue the more wonderful opportunities free speech affords us.

Strossen's speech was, most importantly, the first time I have heard mention of 2 Live Crew and "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" in an academic setting.