The Internet: A Law Unto Itself

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Mark Kastleman

An Internet Tidal Wave

The introduction and subsequent massive growth of the Internet has generated a serious problem with regard to the distribution of illegal pornography. Laws that do exist, designed to prevent pornographers from distributing illegal materials "over the counter," do not apply to the Internet. Through the Internet, obscenity, material harmful to minors, and indecent material-all under the heading of "illegal pornography"-can easily and instantly be distributed by pornographers from anywhere around the world to anyone with a computer. There currently are no statutes in the U.S. regarding the display of any and all forms of illegal pornography on the Internet, with the exception of child pornography.

And even with child pornography, there is so much of it on the Internet that law enforcement can only keep tabs on a fraction of the violators. Unfortunately, when an arrest is made for child pornography violations, there is no guarantee that the charges will hold up in court. For example, recently a high-profile business executive was arrested and charged for the possession of child pornography and soliciting sex with a 13-year-old over the Internet. It appears, though, that the courts will dismiss the child porn possession charges due to a technicality in the law. The dismissal of these cases will increase dramatically now that the Supreme Court has stuck down the "Virtual Child Porn Law" proposed by Congress. The Supreme Court voted in April against banning virtual child pornography, which uses young adults or computer-generated images to depict children in sexually explicit acts. Now prosecutors will have to prove that a pedophile's child porn photos are "real" as oppose! d to "virtual!" Heaven help our children!

In addition to the horror of children being displayed in pornography, no laws are on the books to protect children from being exposed to Internet pornography. Amazingly, anyone can freely and deliberately show explicit, degrading and violent pornographic images to children via the Internet without fear of legal recourse!

Internet Pornographers Can Legally Provide Pornography to Children

If a pornographer sells his wares to a child over the counter, he or she can be prosecuted and punished under the law. But that same pornographer can provide the very same pornographic images (or worse) to a child on the Internet using "teaser photos" and face no legal consequences of any kind. What sort of images can be displayed on the computers of children, teens and adults? The simple answer is, "Anything goes!"

The Internet was first developed as a fast and inexpensive way for scientists and other researchers at one location to communicate via the computer with colleagues at another location. No one could accurately predict what far-reaching effects this technology would have.

For years it was assumed that the Internet was merely a toy for computer whizzes and would never really catch on with the general public. No one really paid much attention to it. But, as the features and benefits of the Internet grew, it became very clear that it had enormous potential and that its use and appeal were not limited to a small group of computer technicians.

Almost over night use of the Internet exploded. A wide range of organizations "logged on." Powerful entrepreneurs and prestigious corporations began to recognize the Internet's tremendous value as a source of new sales and revenue. Simply put, everyone was taken by surprise. Suddenly, there it was-Cyberspace. No controls, no laws, no guidelines. All brand new! And still the Internet is a law unto itself in essence-it has no laws.

Attempting to Regulate the Internet

Once people realized the true power of the Internet, including the ability of pornographers to use it without rules or restrictions, a movement began to try and bring law and order to the Internet environment.

On February 8, 1996 the Communications Decency Act (CDA) was signed into law. The provisions of the Act were designed to punish those who distributed pornographic materials to minors over the Internet. Violators would face fines and imprisonment.

Immediately there arose an uproar from pornographers and other groups: "This is a violation of the First Amendment!" On June 12, 1996, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia federal district court agreed and declared the CDA unconstitutional.

On June 26, 1997, the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently affirmed the lower court's ruling that the CDA was unconstitutional.

It's interesting to note that Penthouse magazine posted the following statement on its Internet site shortly after the Court struck down the CDA legislation intended to protect children on the Internet: The Supreme Court has cleared the way for Penthouse to build the Ultimate Empire of Sex on the Internet. . . . You will see a new, hotter, harder Penthouse.

In striking down the CDA, the Supreme Court ruled that the language in the Act was "too broad." So, taking into account the Court's opinion, a few members of the Senate and Congress tailored a new act with a much "narrower" approach. Called the "Child Online Protection Act" or COPA, it was passed in October of 1998 as part of the Omnibus Spending Bill.

COPA contains major revisions that attempt to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling regarding CDA.

These revisions include: - Specifically exempting material with serious literary, artistic, political or scientific merit;

  • Addressing only commercial pornographers, not amateur postings;
  • Addressing only the World Wide Web, not News groups, e-mail or chat rooms; and
  • Defining minors as those 16 or under.

This Act nearly died on a number of occasions, but a flood of calls from citizens prompted Congress to pass it. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, crying "censorship," immediately filed a lawsuit against the measure. In February of 1999, U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed imposed an injunction against the law, thus preventing its enactment and tying it up in the infamous appeals process.

On June 23, 2000, CNET News reported the following: In a unanimous decision yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reluctantly upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court judge, who found that the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) violated the First Amendment right to free speech. Appeals court Judge Leonard Garth stated: "Sometimes we must make decisions that we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result."

As mentioned earlier in this article, in April, the Supreme Court struck down the "Virtual Child Porn" law. And now, in another blow to the safety and protection of our children, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the ban on the enforcement of COPA should remain in place. The Supreme Court has sent COPA back to the lower courts for further review. It is expected that after the endless appeals process, COPA will ultimately be defeated.

Once again, pornography on the Internet is without rules, regulations or restrictions and the pornographers, together with those who support their cause, will do everything in their power to keep it that way. It should be clear by now that you cannot rely on laws to protect you and your family when it comes to pornography on the Internet. Once you enter the unbridled prairie of cyberspace, be prepared to ride a wild pony. Mavericks are the rule. "Anything goes."

Don't Give Up-You Can Make a Difference

Observing the unconscionable actions of the ACLU, the courts, pornographers and others in relation to the protection of children and families, it's easy to throw your hands in the air and simply give up. Take courage-you're not alone in this fight. There are a number of national organizations providing tremendous support and resources for the protection of children and families from the devastation of pornography. I urge you to contact these organizations and obtain their information and materials. They will show you, step-by-step, how to make a powerful difference in your own family and community.

National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families
800 Compton Road, Suite 9224
Cincinnati, OH 45231-9964
(Internet safety, faith outreach, victim assistance, education and awareness, Model Cities of America)

American Family Association
P.O. Drawer 2440
Tupelo, Mississippi 38803
(Helpful Resources: What one person can do . . . Fight Back Book, etc.)

Enough is Enough
P.O. Box 30117
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(A variety of wonderful resources, pamphlets and newsletter)

Morality In Media
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 239
New York, NY 10115
(Excellent newsletter and resources)

Washington Watch
(Family Research Council)
801 G Street NW
Washington D.C., 20001
(Information on current national issues)

Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, CO 80995
(Citizen Magazine and newsletter)

Mark B. Kastleman is the author of the revolutionary new book titled The Drug of the New Millennium-the Science of How Internet Pornography Radically Alters the Human Brain and Body-A Guide for Parents, Spouses, Clergy and Counselors. Many leading scientists, psychologists, therapists and religious leaders consider this book to be one of the most important works ever written on this subject, and a must-read for parents, spouses, clergy and counselors.