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The Effect of Technology on Censorship

Censorship is a method of control which targets information in order to influence or limit the ability of people to acquire information. The internet has allowed our world to become huge and interconnected. It is important for people to be able to access information that other people are saying about different topics. People need to have the ability to share their opinions with others but laws designed to protect the intellectual property of individuals and corporations can be used to control information. Governments around the world are guilty of removing information from the internet in order to keep it out of the public’s view. Censorship is a practice which hinders the ability of people to learn and make decisions. Because of censorship, rights which people once believed to be innate, natural and irrevocable are now being nullified. This raises the question: Has technology made censorship more prevalent in modern times? People have become increasingly willing to accept various forms of censorship enforced by authoritative figures.

Companies have the ability to manipulate copyright laws in order to serve their own interest. A copyright is intended to exist to provide economic benefits and protect rights to intellectual property. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976 states that:

Allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This means that it is perfectly legitimate to exhibit photos or video of a product to provide a review. There has been numerous instances of video game reviews that people post on YouTube which get removed due to the copyright holder of the video game issuing a copyright dispute with YouTube. These videos may show clips of the game. Companies that submit issues for online reviews state that the videos being made infringe on their rights as copyright holders, so if a person shows a product or a screenshot from a game it is infringing on the owners rights. Companies blatantly violate the Copyright Act 1976 by removing many items that people publish on the internet. Any company that issues a content removal request for a review should be legally denied as long as the video does not contain the whole body of their work.

The Constitution of the United States is just as easily manipulated as copyright laws. Alexander Meiklejohn, in his book titled Political Freedom: The Constitutional Powers of the People, states that "[T]he First Amendment ... does not forbid the abridging of speech. But, at the same time, it does forbid the abridging of the freedom of speech. It is to the solving of that paradox, that apparent self-contradiction, that we are summoned if, as free men, we wish to know what the right of freedom of speech is. (Meiklejohn, 1)". This statement exposes an apparent self-contradiction in the Constitution. The First Amendment protects against the abridgement of the freedom of speech, but it does not protect the freedom of speech itself. The Constitution is a document which is nearly as old as the country itself. It should not be expected that the same values that were true back then will still hold up to today’s standards. The founding fathers of the Unites States had no idea that the internet would ever be created. That is why twenty seven amendments have been required to protect people's rights. The men who drafted the Constitution knew that words had power, but they had no notion of the limitless potential of the written word when submitted to the vast network of communication that today is known as the internet. The fact remains that the Constitution has proved that it cannot keep up with changes in society. It should be more than expected that the laws of the United States will have trouble keeping up with the rapid advances of technology.
Censorship may be moderated by the Constitution in the United States but many countries do not have laws to protect information. The Chinese Central Government censors websites which cover topics such as freedom of speech and human rights as well as news websites and blogs. These websites are either partially or completely blocked from access by internet users. The Chinese government continuously policies the content available to its internet users. China has the ability to block specific words from being sent in instant messages and it regularly issues lists of restricted keywords to internet-based companies. Words such as democracy, human rights, freedom, and evil are all words banned from chinese search results. A widespread feeling of satisfaction has been reportedly felt by many Chinese Internet users. The authors of China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy." Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs state that the Chinese view on censorship is more complacent that might be expected. "[Citizens] have frequently protested against government actions aimed at further controlling Web content and use, the Internet in China offers a wide and attractive range of services, making restrictions almost unnoticeable to many users. (Lum, Figliola, Weed)" This satisfaction has reduced public pressure for greater freedom but many internet users in china are not aware of what they are missing. In addition, the Chinese Central Government justifies its firm grip on the internet saying that such control is necessary to control cyber crimes, such as pornography, gambling and slander. Advances in technology have made censorship almost unnoticeable in China as well as many other countries.

In response to requests from many countries to remove items from searches, Google has taken a strong stance against censorship, denying many removal requests placed towards its search results. Dorothy Chou, Google’s Senior Policy Analyst states that Google has received an alarming amount of removal requests from countries that are not typically associated with censorship.

[I]n the second half of last year, Spanish regulators asked us to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors. In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it (Chou).

These removal requests threaten the ability for individuals to express themselves. There are many countries that do not explicitly protect the freedom of speech but the motives behind censorship are because governments feel the need to control their citizens. Governments are taking on too much power and they are picking up the long lost roles of ancient monarchies. Governments are meant to govern their people, they should not be controlling their subjects. Modern control of nations is not accomplished through totalitarianism, but by simply removing the elements that oppose their influence. Elements such as politically opposing blogs can be made to simply vanish from the public eye. The reason that governments today seek to control information is the same reason that the Nazis had for burning books in the 1930s. The Nazis sought to remove thoughts and ideas that opposed their own.

Internet searches reveal vast store houses of information. It can be very difficult to know whether an item has been removed, or if it ever existed to begin with. In the book Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, the authors discuss the influential power of search engines. "[S]earch is more than a quick form of look-up in a digital library. Search is a new form of control over information. ... If we place absolute trust in a search engine to find things for us, we are giving the search engine the power to make it hard or impossible for us to know things. (Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis 112)." Censorship exists whenever information is made inaccessible to a particular person. Search engines have a tremendous amount of control over what information that we see. While it is possible to get information from other sources, the first place most people will turn to when researching a topic is a search engine. In the book Blown to Bits, the authors state that search engines have been elevated to status of trust that many sources such as encyclopedia's were once given. When dealing with censorship within search results it can be very difficult to determine what content is not being shown. Searches on the internet are the only way to discover content other than if someone gives you a link to a page. The vast volume of information that can be accessed through modern search results makes it so that if an item does not appear in the results, it might as well not exist.

Before modern technological advances, censorship was not an integrated part of people's daily lives. Technology has made it possible to seamlessly valw unwanted information from the view of the public. Early Americans had a much different view on how censorship affected their rights. Professor Philip Hamburger, in a paper on natural rights, refers to how early Americans thought of rights. Hamburger states that people thought of some rights as natural. Natural rights were rights that everyone has when in nature away from the influence of government. These rights include the freedom of speech. Hamburger concludes that "if the laws of defamation, obscenity, and fraud reflected the pre-existing natural law limitations on the natural right of speech and press, then they did not violate or abridge that right. (Hamburger, 1)" This means that people during this time did not see a limitation that could be imposed if there was no one around to control it. Today, automated software can pick up and remove content from search results based on what words the content contains. Free from technology, people have long recognised censorship as a crime. Censorship was regarded by John Milton in the 17th century as an unlawful abridgment of people's natural rights. Milton advocated of freedom of the press and protested against the Roman Catholic Church which strictly policed the content of various works of literature to make sure that they aligned with its values and beliefs. Milton "argued against a government's right to license (or previously restrain) publication. Milton's definition of freedom of the press, however, did not preclude the condemnation of material after publication. (Merriam-Webster)" Milton and the individuals who supported his ideas saw that it is important for people to be able to print and acquire information freely. Technology makes it very easy to share information but laws and governments impose censorship which destroys the integrity and worth of the internet.

Control is the act of taking away rights from others. Every person is at risk of being silenced at the expense of their natural rights. Many seek to control the internet through filters and suppression. It is wrong to deny people access to information that consists of knowledge and opinions. In the wake of technological advancement, people have become accustomed to censorship. Many times it is difficult to determine whether content on the internet has been censored at all. People need to have the ability to attain information. The extraordinary aspect of the internet is that no single entity owns it. While it is true that, various parts belong to different companies and groups of people, the internet as a whole is entirely the property and intellectual child of the human race. The internet is the most powerful network communication on our planet, it is more powerful than any government and more influential than any single media outlet. There is no other place where the collective knowledge of an entire species can be accessed. The internet is the property of people and this is what makes it so important. Technology has made it possible for censorship to efficiently decrease the worth of information that people have access to.

Works Cited
Abelson, Harold, Ken Ledeen, and Harry R. Lewis. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion. (pp. 109-12) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2008. Print.
Brin, Sergey. "The New York Times." A Library to Last Forever. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/opinion/09brin.html. Web
Chou, Dorothy. "Google Public Policy Blog." More Transparency into Government Requests.
Google Public Policy Blog, 17 June 2012. Web. 29 Oct.2013.http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2012/06/more-transparency-into-government.html.
Hamburger, Philip A. "Natural Rights, Natural Law, and American Constitutions."Yale Law Journal Jan. 1993: 907-60. Academic OneFile. Web. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA13352584&v=2.1&u=mlin_w_westnew&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=be9030fa9dbc34e0c3c110a20c253564.
Lum, Thomas, Patricia Moloney Figliola, and Matthew C. Weed. "China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy." Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs. N.p.: Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs, 2012. N. pag. Academic OneFile. Web. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA303225077&v=2.1&u=mlin_w_ westnew&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=fbb6b63a02605b2118c38605a8e3992f.
Meiklejohn, Alexander. Political Freedom: The Constitutional Powers of the People. New York: Harper, 1960. Print.
Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. "censorship". Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995. Academic OneFile.
"U.S. Copyright Office - Copyright Law of the United States." U.S. Copyright Office - Copyright Law of the United States. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
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By The Prophet from The World (America) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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