Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Urge to Purge High-Tech Smut

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Urge to Purge High-Tech Smut

Article excerpt

Without hearings, and for the most part without forethought, the Senate by a large vote added to its big new communications bill the Exon-Coats amendment, banning smut from the computer Internet. As usual, the excuse is the protection of children from lewd ideas.

The action calls to mind Ogden Nash's delicious tribute to a Senate smut-basher of yesteryear, the same Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah who gave us the Hawley-Smoot tariff:

Senator Smoot (Republican Ut.)

is planning a ban on smut.

Oh root-ti-toot for Smoot of Ut.

and his reverent occiput.

Smite, Smoot, smite for Ut.

Grit your molars and do your dut. . . .

What the Exon-Coats amendment doesn't call to mind is the Senate's reputation as a great deliberative body. Smoot's smarter successor from Utah, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, called the amendment "a political exercise" and voted against it.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. James Exon of Nebraska and Dan Coats of Indiana, overlooks so many elementary characteristics of the technology it seeks to regulate that it can't work, even if it should.

Internet computer linkups are in no position to police the words and pictures that users pass over their lines domestically, let alone globally. They provide an essentially passive service, more closely akin to the paper and ink manufacturer than to the writer, editor or publisher. Who will be the enforcer?

The Internet is especially problematical because it continues a long historic trend toward the privatization of public communication - from the town crier to the pamphlet to the newspaper sold on the street, from the telephone and the console radio to the portable transistor with personalized earphones. And now to a web of personal communication that can be accessed by long-distance line and modem.

Its social implications, however significant, may take years to clarify. But the Senate, in its rush to clear the way for monopoly and profit, can't even take time to consult the available historical analysis.

It should; for it happens to be interesting. What the senators would have learned from, say, Professor Ithiel de Sola Pool of MIT, the pre-eminent historian of communications technology, is that in moving to cleanse the Internet they are following a predictable pattern. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.