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
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
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 than traditionally
has been available. Users have an increasing choice of what content
they receive and when they wish to receive it. The ACLU-W believes
that these communications enjoy the full protection of the first
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.
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, 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.