Monitoring Internet Communication
The Internet has for many become a symbol of freedom – freedom of communication, human interaction, and flow of information.People all over the world can with ease submit their ideas and feelings to this virtual medium and retrieve from it the equally free ideas of other people.However, some claim that Internet communication does not have to be as free as it is.
Instead, it needs to be monitored to prevent its usage as a medium for terrorist organisations, drug dealers, fraudsters, and other criminal or unlawful groupings.
Others point out that Internet is virtually the only way for people with oppressive regimes to access information that will present them with an objective picture of the outside world. While there are reasons for both points, free speech should take precedence in democratic nations, and therefore Internet monitoring is a harmful practice.
Such monitoring is in fact a violation of free speech, one of the inalienable human rights. Generations of thinkers and revolutionaries lost their lives for the triumph of democracy that is only possible with free speech as one of its cornerstones. If the American journalists, for instance, had been deprived of the right to criticise Presidents, senators, congressmen, and other political leaders, it is hard to imagine what the nation would have turned into.
Constant monitoring of political leaders is what gives the nation a chance to remain democratic. On the other hand, nations like China are banning certain websites to blind their citizens to what is going on in the rest of the world. This shows that freedom of speech is a hallmark of a democratic nation, and monitoring Internet communication violates these rights.
Giving an individual person the right to know constitutes the respect of the autonomy of an individual. A human being has the right to access information pertaining to different spheres of life and should not be restricted in this ability by the opinion of the few. Since, if Internet communication is to be monitored to ban, for instance, pornographic material, the question arises: who will be the people that will decide what is pornography and what is not?
The Ancient Greek statues could easily be termed inappropriate by some medieval priest. Putting access to information at the judgement of a few obscure individuals will make these people make decisions for all, and there is no guarantee that their judgement will help society make better choices.
A popular objection that without monitoring Internet content someone “might unknowingly visit a Web site with this material and cause him- or herself mental harm” does not seem valid either (Garlock, 1999). The problem is that Internet is like life in the sense that it encompasses a great deal of its variety and glory. You cannot shield yourself from harmful influences in life any more than you can on the Internet.
If someone is disgusted, for instance, by the site of the sick and the crippled, no one will remove them from streets just to please the person. Similarly, the Internet has to contain images and information about the outside world that reflects its diversity. Therefore, no one can isolate oneself from harmful influence on the Internet since they reflect real life.
Thus, monitoring Internet communication is hardly a valid idea. In the political realm, it will lead to restriction of freedom that can bring about the emergence of un-democratic regimes oppressing ill-informed citizens. On the other hand, giving people a free medium is one of the ways to save them from the state’s propaganda machine by letting them see alternative viewpoints. Monitoring is also a bad idea because it will put the individual at the mercy of a select group that will perform the monitoring in accordance with their own ideas and perceptions.
Finally, the idea of using Internet as a means of protecting people from undesirable content does not hold simply because no one can hide in a ‘hole’ from real life. The only option is to go to sites that you yourself think proper for you and avoid troublesome content. With respect to others, one can paraphrase Voltaire’s words: “I disapprove of what you post, but I will defend to the death your right to place it online”.
Garlock, A. (1999). Internet Censorship. Retrieved April 25, 2006
Wollstein, J. Freedom of Speech Under Siege. Retrieved April 25, 2006, from http://www.serendipity.li/cda/freespee.html