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There are a number of organized campaigns and causes on the Web that I think are worthwhile, some of which I have participated in and some that I just have strong feelings about. This page is a place where I can sound off a little on them.

I hesitated to create this page and move my various pointers to it because I didn't want to ghetoize the these causes, but at the same time, the various icons for theses causes appear on so many people's pages that I think we become blind to them. Perhaps by commenting upn them I can do a bit more good.

[Blue Ribbon: Free Speech Online] [Green Ribbon: Responsible Free Speech] [24 Hours of Democracy] [Violence Against Women]

Blue Ribbon: Free Speech Online

The blue ribbon campaign is one of the strongest and leongest-lasting political movements on the Web. Like the black page protest and 24 Hours of Democaracy, it was created in reaction against the so-called Communications Decency Act, which was recently overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. Last I heard the EFF's (Electronic Frontier Foundation) Blue Ribbon page was something like the fifth most linked to page on the Web with about 20,000 links.

Freedom of speech is one of our most important freedoms, as it helps us to protect the others. It is also under moderately heavy asault by forces on both the Right and the Left who think that things that they don't like just shouldn't be allowed, and by governments everywhere who are afraid of challenges to their power.

It is worth noting that while the EFF has proclaimed the recent Supreme Court decision in Reno v. ACLU a unanimous victory, there were still reasons to be concerned. The minority decision, while it did concur in part with the majority decision that the CDA was unconstitutional, declared that it was a reasonable goal for the Congress to try to establish an "adult zone" on the internet. The CDA only did it the wrong way. Justice O'Conor's introductory paragraph to her dissent reads:

I write separately to explain why I view the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) as little more than an attempt by Congress to create "adult zones" on the Internet. Our precedent indicates that the creation of such zones can be constitutionally sound. Despite the soundness of its purpose, however, portions of the CDA are unconstitutional because they stray from the blueprint our prior cases have developed for constructing a "zoning law" that passes constitutional muster.
Follow, if you will, what she says in the following exerpts. (Much of the elided text is citations. I do not believe I have substantially altered her argument in what I have left out. Feel free to read the entire decision. In fact, I encourage you to. The full text is on the EFF's page.

Since users can transmit and receive messages on the Internet without revealing anything about their identities or ages, [...] however, it is not currently possible to exclude persons from accessing certain messages on the basis of their identity.

[... I]t is possible to construct barriers in cyberspace and use them to screen for identity, making cyberspace more like the physical world and, consequently, more amenable to zoning laws.

This transformation of cyberspace is already underway. [...] Internet speakers (users who post material on the Internet) have begun to zone cyberspace itself through the use of "gateway" technology. Such technology requires Internet users to enter information about themselves -- perhaps an adult identification number or a credit card number -- before they can access certain areas of cyberspace, [...] much like a bouncer checks a person's driver's license before admitting him to a nightclub.


Despite this progress, the transformation of cyberspace is not complete.


Although the prospects for the eventual zoning of the Internet appear promising, I agree with the Court that we must evaluate the constitutionality of the CDA as it applies to the Internet as it exists today.

What she is saying here is that the Internet can and should be altered in such a way that idenities can be verified and adult zoning established. This is not, to my way of thinking, a good idea. It leads directly to one of the other big issues: Internet Privacy, and offers considerable possibility of threat to our fundemental freedoms.

Internet Privacy

Blue-noses want us to give up our privacy so that accesses can be denied to us on the basis of our identity. Advertisers want know our identities and to be able to keep track of our accesses and our purchases so that they can target their ads at us. The FBI and other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies want to forbid us both anonymity and encryption in case they need to tap our phones, e-mail and so forth.

In the face of all of this, it is very reasonable to demand both privacy and free access to strong cryptography. The Internet Privacy Coalition's Golden Key campaign is intended to demonstrate that the citizens of the net are concerned about privacy, and especially the availability of crypto software.

I applaud and support the Coalition's efforts. Ultimately, I am convinced, the future holds a lot less privacy than most people in this country assume we have the right to, but that doesn't mean tha we have to surrender all of it.

Green Ribbon: Responsible Free Speech

The Green Ribbon Campaign, which was started by Zondervan Publishing House, is a more complex matter. I cannot say that I agree with them entirely, but I think that their approach is a far healthier one thyan many today, and deserves considerable thought and discussion.

The Green Ribbon campaign combines support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but at the same time calls for responsibility and constraint in their exercise. To quote the introduction on their home page:

As the world's leading Christian publisher, Zondervan Publishing House recognizes that the right to free speech is one of the most important and fundamental rights of liberty. We support the right to free speech in all its forms. We also call for responsibility in exercising this right.

It's hard to disagree with the sentiment expressed their. As they point out, words are important, words can hurt, words can change the world. Just like anything that can affect us, care should be taken with how we use words. Using words hurtfully is like doing anything else that is hurtful.

And yet...

And yet, there is a danger in calling for restraint in the exercise of the freedom of speech. Note, forinstance, the quote from Dr. Alan Keyes that appears on the Green Ribbon home page:

Freedom requires that at the end of the day, we accept the constraint that is required....

It is a very short step from saying that we must "accept the constraint that is required", meaning that we must accept the responsibility to exercise self-restraint, and the claim that people -- we -- they -- must accept constraint imposed from outside. Notice that Dr. Keyes' words can be read either way.

Look, too, at what has happened in the last couple of decades in the area of so-called "politically correct" speech. in the 50'ws and 60's we accepted uses of language that were hurtful as just normal usage. in the 60's and 70's many of us who were involved in the counter-culture, in the struggles for civil rights and civil liberties, began to use language in a more inclusive and open fashion. We endeavored to speak in a way that shaped actions and changed the world for the better. By the 80's and 90's, though, the shoe was on the other foot and the use of language that even the radicals of the 60's would never have blinked at can be seen as harassing and grounds for legal action.

So, I agree with the Green Ribbon call for the exercise of reposibility and self-restraint in our exercise of our rights, I am concerned that we remember that freedom means that we have the right to act irresponsibly, that self-restraint ought not to be enforced.

24 Hours of Democracy

The 24 Hours of Democracy project was a wonderful example of community action and civic action within the virtual community of the internet. During a single 24 hour period on February 22, 1996, thousands of us posted essays on the subjects of democracy, freedom of speech and censorship. These essays were hooked together in a large ring. (Actually, the mechanics of linking them broke down and rather than a single ring we had a more complex structure with several loops and worls in it. The topography was, not inapprpriately more of a web or net than a ring.) I posted my essay in the first few minutes of that day, and like many, still maintain it on my web site.

I urge you to explore the tracks of that excelent experiment in democracy.

Candlelight Vigil: Violence Against Women

Like the 24 Hours of Democracy project, the Candlelight Vigil was supposed to be a brief demonstratio, a Web event scheduled to last only one week, but lived on well beyond its original schedule. Like the 24 Hours of Democracy, the Vigil represents not merely a call for freedom, but an exercise of that freedom and an expression of community spirit and will. They are, among many other examples, the reason that we want and need freedom of speech.

I did not participate in the Vigil, nor even know about it until several months after the fact, but I do feel it is an important an valuable example of the sort of thing that ought to go on on the net. I encourage you two look into it and even to emulate it and the 24 Hours of Democracy in expressing yourself on the important issues of our day.

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Last Updated: Jul 15, 2008