The protection and promotion of freedom of speech throughout the world is one of the often-declared goals of democratic states. Arguments of this kind can be used to support various political decisions and pressure on different countries regardless of what the real cause of such a pressure is. A special case of the implementation of the freedom of speech liberal ideology is the struggle against censorship on the Internet that is understood as a struggle for the human access to any information. However, the actual situation shows that many democratic countries cannot do without some form of Internet censorship. The Internet censorship should not be implemented in democratic countries at the state level as it suppresses the basic rights of people. The purpose of the paper is to analyze whether the government of any country can censor the Internet or not.
The Issue of the Internet Censorship
With the advent of the Internet, the world has begun to move faster. Today, to find some information, a person does not need to go to the library and spend much time there anymore. It is necessary only to open the search engine, and the response is ready immediately. Thus, the Internet users even invented a new term to google. The World Wide Web has even surpassed television because the latest news first appears on the Internet and only then on TV. However, many politicians claim that the Internet contains much harmful information and, thus, it should be filtered. Christine Zuchora-Walske states, “The Internet allows people to share harmful or false information easily” (Zuchora-Walske, 2010, p. 5). The Internet censorship has become an extremely important issue not long ago. Such censorship is the interdiction or control of the information that people can lay open to the public in the Internet or download from it. Bernadette Schell gives the following definition, “Internet censorship, as a basic level, occurs when governments try to control citizens’ online activities, restrict the free flow of information, and infringe on the rights of online users” (Bernadette, 2014, p. 3). It has the same legal basis as the censorship of the press. However, its main difference consists in the fact that national borders of the Internet are blurred. The citizens of a state, in which some information is forbidden, can find it on the websites in other countries. Exposing the Internet to censorship completely is extremely difficult due to the very nature of the Global Network. The subject of censorship is not only the government but also other agents of social action involving large Internet sites, corporations, communities, as well as consumers and content producers. Censoring of the Internet is not simply an act of repression but the process that happens at the intersection of constant pulses and compromises (Beattie, 2013).
The question of whether censorship on the Internet is permissible or not is actively discussed. Parents and teachers were the first who expressed an opinion about the necessity to check and control the information on the Internet (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2013). They were concerned that the Internet content of offensive character could harm their children. In 1996, the U.S. Congress initiated the Communications Decency Act. According to the Act, the publication of information of the insulting or obscene nature on the Internet was interdicted (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2013). Nevertheless, the opponents of this Act immediately asserted that it contradicted the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2013). In such a way, the action of the Act was restrained. One of the arguments of the act critics considered the fact that people who receive content are able to filter it within the organization using the technical software. However, it should not be implemented at the state level. Indeed, management of some companies blocks employees’ access to resources that are not directly related to work, including different forums, personal mail, entertainment sites, and services. However, in many countries, the Internet is filtered not only in companies or educational institutions but also at the national level (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2013). Different enterprises have conducted numerous studies. They publish data on the Internet filtering rate in various states. Worldwide, there is no sole opinion on the Internet censorship (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2013). Several countries have already introduced filtering of the Internet at the level of a state (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2013). Philip Howard mentions, “By 2007, 26 of 40 examined countries were found to engage in Internet filtering practices to some degree” (Howard, 2010, p. 327). However, many countries are still struggling for an opportunity to have freedom of speech on the Internet.
The Internet Filtration in Different Countries
In the world, there are countries with complete filtration. In the book Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, the authors assert, “The states that practice state-mandated filtering are predominantly clustered in three regions of the world: east Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Central Asia” (Deibert, Palfrey, Rohozinski, Zittrain & Stein, 2008, p. 3). Iran and China are two of a kind. These states have total filtering of the Internet. In turn, Ying Jiang affirms, “According to Western media, freedom of expression remains suppressed in China” (Jiang, 2012, p. 63). In China, filtering is conducted at the national level and has a clear political implication. The filtration system in this country has received a symbolic title - the Great Firewall of China. Any content relating to human rights, political opposition, independence of Taiwan and Tibet, as well as some news services such as BBC is under the ban (MacKinnon, Hickok, Bar & Hae-in, 2015). In the book Fostering Freedom Online: The Role of Internet Intermediaries, the authors state, “In China, blacklisted websites are filtered, as are web pages containing politically sensitive words or banned URLs including pages displaying search queries and search results containing sensitive words” (MacKinnon et al., 2015, p. 102). Iran is another country with the strict Internet censorship imposed at the state level. In this country, censorship is exposed mainly to the content in Persian, which, according to the country’s leadership, is critical. The ISP is responsible for the content filtering in this country. Each Internet provider introduces its system of content filtering. In Iran, websites with political content, gay services, blogs, and pages advocating for the women’s rights are filtered. There are cases of bloggers that were even sentenced to imprisonment for their online activity (MacKinnon et al., 2015).
There are countries with the nominal level of filtration. In the United States, filtration at the national level is implemented in a number of public organizations such as schools and libraries under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (Rogers & Seigfried-Spellar, 2012). In France, nominal filtration is also present. France became the first European country that assigned on the legislative level the ability to restrict the user’s access to the Internet (Smith, 2007). For example, the French court has demanded Yahoo! to restrict access to all Nazi and neo-Nazi materials available through the Web-based interface for users on the territory of the country. Google also filters its services in accordance with the requirements of the French law. At the government level, in France, centralized filters are used; they close access to schoolchildren to any sites of racist, anti-Semitic, and neo-fascist orientation (Smith, 2007).
In the countries without the Internet filtration, the question of children’s protection from the harmful content is of great concern. Many experts believe that in this case, the main way of censorship should be the censorship at the user level (Clunan & Trinkunas, 2010). A parental control over the content can be an effective tool since the protection of childhood on the Internet has long been recognized as a necessity. Children as compared with adults are more vulnerable to the effects of everything including the freedom of speech. Parental censoring of the Internet content, which is one of the most topical tendencies of censorship of the Web, may be implemented by blocking the child’s access to different sites or keywords searches that parents recognize as dangerous (Macnamara, 2010). The issue of parental control of the Internet is closely associated with a rather conflicting point of view concerning the way the Internet censoring should look like. In fact, in most democratic countries, the protection of childhood is the main reason for the censorship. Proponents of this position believe that such restrictions of content should be implemented by concerned parents in accordance with their views on the information security. However, it should not be administered at the state level as it inevitably will result in heavy abuse. In general, the tendency to strengthen the position of a parent in the online space is becoming more noticeable every year. Moreover, in some countries, there are specific government programs that provide families with free software for this task. Australia is one of these countries. When Kevin Rudd came to power, in his election campaign, he stated the necessary to introduce mandatory filtering of the Internet access (Price, 2014). It should be done with the aim to protect Australian children (Price, 2014). The offer was met with fierce resistance by those who have argued that it was technically impossible and those who did not accept it as being a violation of personal freedom (Price, 2014). However, even taking into account the fact that the government has overcome these obstacles, the question of how the software selected for this purpose will cope with this task remains. According to many experts, it cannot guarantee the one–hundred-percent control over children on the Internet (Price, 2014).
These days, many countries worldwide try to filter the Internet content with the aim to protect users from harmful information or such that contains undesirable political messages. Thus, many states implement a model of the legal regulation, in which a provider is assigned the functions of control and elimination of illegal content. The responsibility for the violation of legislation applies to both the user and the provider. This fact encourages people to self-censorship while using the Internet.