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Stop Internet Censorship Rally

Remarks by Aki Namioka, CPSR
December 14, 1995

Thank you all for attending this rally today. Since I know many of you are on your lunch break we will try to convey our message as succinctly as possible.

My name is Aki Namioka and I am here to speak on behalf of the First Amendment. It NEEDS some allies these days. When I told a friend of mine that I was organizing a rally, he asked me "what for?" and I said "for Free Speech". He said "I thought we already won that battle". Well, the bad news is - we haven't.

Today we will hear from various citizens and organizations - all of whom are concerned about what is going on in congress right now. The organizations represented today are the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Seattle Community Network, the 911 Media Arts Center, and the Washington Coalition Against Censorship. I am here to represent a national non-profit organization called Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR).

Since the mid-80s CPSR has been an public-interest advocate for civil rights with respect to electronic information. As the Internet has expanded, and more and more information is made available to the general public, we have seen a growing assault on our civil liberties. As I watched the Telecommunications Bill makes its way through congress this year - with its severe censorship wording - and a similar "harmful to minors bill" in Washington State - I naively thought that the lawmakers had no idea what the Internet was - because the legislation they were proposing was so broad that it was unenforcable, therefore unworkable. However, it is impossible for me to keep this naive view any longer. Even as it is getting broad press coverage and commercial interest - its very nature - that of free flowing ideas and information - is making them run scared. And we are witnessing the result.

Consider the word "indecent". What does it mean to you? Can you think of examples of what YOU would consider indecent? Congress apparently has a good definition in mind, because last week the House committee voted for legislation that would invoke stiff fines ($100,000) for people who transmit "indecent" material on a public forum. The result of this legislation is that the Internet will be more heavily censored than other established forms of media communication. Not only is this an insult to the concept of Free Speech, I would claim that the Internet should be less censored not more.

A few weeks ago a father was talking on the radio, about how, last time he was in New York, he took his 8 year-old daughter to a broadway musical. All around the theater there were XXX movies, live sex shows, etc. And, he said, he felt embarrassed, not knowing how to explain it to his daughter. Then he said that while he kept reading about all this pornography on the net, he had never, in countless hours surfing around the net with his daughter, found any. Never. They ran across educational information, toys, etc. But no pornography.

Now this doesn't mean that pornography doesn't exist on the internet, just as it does in every state in this country, but it does mean that it's much less obtrusive than in any town in America. Fortunately, there are already laws around to protect us and our children from child and other hard core pornography. If you publish kiddie porn on a web site you will go to jail, just as you would if you published it in a magazine. And this makes sense. Why do we need new laws?

Let me leave you with an example of the dangers of using broad, ill-defined language to regulate communcation. Earlier this month, the Boston Globe reported that AOL had banned the word "breast." The company agreed to reverse the policy after "several days of on-line protests by irate breast cancer patients." Richard A. Knox, "Women Go Online To Decry Ban On Breast,'" The Boston Globe, 12/1/95.

This was not an act of Congress, I grant. But it is symptomatic of what we're fighting. Technology may power the engine of society. Let's not forget that the steering is up to us.

Now I would like to introduce to you our next speaker.

1. Jerry Sheehan - Legislative Director ACLU-Washington

2. Rob Glaser - is the founder of Progressive Networks, a small Internet-software firm in Pioneer Square. He serves on the Board of Electronic Frontier Foundation, and he is the chairman of PICS or the Platform for Internet Content Selection. PICS is a group working to encourage development of filtering technolgy so people can have control over the kinds of Internet-based material to which they and their children have access to.

3. Nick Licata - 911 Media Arts Center

4. XX - Washington Coalition Against Censorship

5. Doug Schuler - is the Chair of the national CPSR organization and a founder of the Seattle Community Network. He has recently completed a book on Community Networks titled "New Community Networks: Wired for Change" and is serving as the first Secretary for the newly formed Seattle Community Network Association.