Our First Amendment Rights Online

Guinevere Nell /

China has been rightly criticized for censoring speech on the Internet. It is the one major economy in which the government has denied free speech and free access online. But this could change if the Orwellian-sounding “Minister of Culture” in Britain gets his way. The Minister, Andy Burnham, would like to see at least film-style ratings, and possibly outright censorship, imposed upon the Internet internationally.

He is “planning to negotiate with Barack Obama’s incoming American administration to draw up new international rules for English language websites.”

He is very clear what this means: the end of the free speech zone that the Internet has represented until now.

“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now.”

If film-like controls are not enough, outright censorship is an option this Minister appears ready to consider: the paper commented, Internet Service Providers “could also be forced to offer internet services where the only websites accessible are those deemed suitable for children.”

But ISPs like AOL already offer filters and other services for parents, similar to television parental controls that prevent children from watching adult cable channels, to regulate what children can view. The government should not interfere in the bastion of free speech which the Internet represents. In the free market, speech can be free and simultaneously parents can regulate what their children can access. Government need not protect us from ourselves by censoring our speech.