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Freedom of Expression

First, freedom of expression is the foundation of self-fulfillment. Self-expression enables an individual to realize his or her full potential as a human being. The right of individuals to express their thoughts, desires and aspirations, and to communicate freely with others, affirms the dignity and worth of each and every member of society. Thus, freedom of expression is an end in itself and should not be subordinated to any other goals of society.

Second, freedom of expression is vital to the attainment and advancement of knowledge. The eminent 19th century civil libertarian, John Stuart Mill, contended that enlightened judgment is possible only if one considers all facts and ideas, from whatever source, and tests one's own conclusions against opposing views. But the right to express oneself is not conditioned on the content of one's views, which may be true or false, "good" or "bad," socially useful or harmful. All points of view should be represented in the "marketplace of ideas" so that society can benefit from debate about their worth.

Third, freedom of expression is necessary to our system of self-government. If the American people are to be truly sovereign, the masters of their fate and of their elected government, they must be well-informed. They must have access to all information, ideas and points of view. The precondition for a free society is an informed and enlightened citizenry. Tyrannies thrive on mass ignorance.

Fourth, freedom of expression provides a "check" against possible government corruption and excess, which seem to be permanent features of the human condition.

Restrictions on freedom of speech always authorize the government to decide how, and against whom, the restrictions should apply. The more authority the government has, the more it will use that authority to suppress unpopular minorities, criticism and dissent. Because freedom of expression is so basic to a free society, the ACLU believes that it should never be abridged by the government.

The right to freedom of expression is being severely tested today, just as it has been throughout the 200year history of the Bill of Rights. Governments by nature are always seeking to expand their powers beyond proscribed boundaries, the government of the United States being no exception. And since the right to free expression is not absolute, it must be constantly protected against official depredations.

Today, artistic expression is under attack, as some groups of citizens seek to impose their morality on the rest of society. Book censorship in the public schools, mandatory record labeling, as well as obscenity prosecutions of rap singers, record distributors and museum directors, are all manifestations of suppression efforts. Artists, performers and authors now occupy the same vulnerable position that political radicals did in the 1950s.

If the past two centuries of struggle to preserve freedom of expression have taught us anything, it is that the first target of government suppression is never the last. Whenever government gains the power to decide who can speak and what they can say, the First Amendment rights of all of us are in danger of being violated. But when all people are allowed to express their views and ideas, the principles of democracy and liberty are enhanced.

Ensuring Free Speech in Cyberspace: An Analysis

The ACLU-W believes that policies related to the National Information Infrastructure (NII) should foster free speech, encourage the free marketplace of ideas, enrich user choice, and nurture electronic public forums. To ensure maintenance of these values, there should be at least one broadly available network that carries information without regard to content, provider, or medium.

First Amendment Protections

Existing and emerging communications technologies are capable of supporting a much wider range of communications[1] than traditionally has been available. Users have an increasing choice of what content they receive and when they wish to receive it.[2] The ACLU-W believes that these communications enjoy the full protection of the first amendment.[3]

Every person should have access to a network that is free from censorship. Communications network operators should not be required to monitor content or in any way restrict access based on content of communications. There should be no time restrictions on the hours during which certain content may be made available.

Communications networks and access providers must not be civilly or criminally liable for obscenity, libel or other claims based on the content of material which they do not originate. Only content providers may be liable for illegal or wrongful content.[4]

The ACLU-W endorses the principle that individuals, free from government control, have the right to choose what program content will be provided or received by themselves and their families. Existing and emerging technologies[5], provide the means for parents or other users to control information decisions. Such means should be encouraged instead of regulations restricting speech and free expression.

Barry Steinhardt: I am not specifically familiar with the Australian case, but we have been involved with the French case involving Yahoo. A French court found that Yahoo violated French law because servers in the US violated their "hate" speech provisions. A Federal Judge in California correctly ruled that the US First Amendment bars enforcement of foreign court orders if they violate our First Amendment. That is extremely important principle. 50% or more of all Internet traffic still flows through the US.

*****I really liked this next part*******If every nation could impose their own view of acceptable speech on the US, then all that would be left is the innocuous pablum of the lowest common denominator of acceptable thought. The Internet would lose all of its vitality.


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