Access to the internet should be free and without regulation, because there is a danger to the right of expression if law enforcement and governments seek to regulate the internet. There should be regulations against illegal actions that are conducted over the internet, such as accessing certain kinds of pornography, pirating copyrighted material, or making threats to other persons online; however, each of these crimes would be crimes with or without the internet, so there should not be regulations specifically controlling what information is accessible online.
The internet has transformed how society shares information and receives news. From a sociological perspective, it has transformed the way we communicate with one another; from an anthropological perspective, it has influenced how cultures have evolved; and from a psychological perspective, it can change how we perceive ourselves and our own place in society. The internet therefore cannot be considered to be unilaterally good; many problems that did not exist previously now exist because of the internet, such as a rise in copyright infringement, various forms of fraud, and even targeted hate crimes (MacKinnon 57). This can be disconcerting to a government, and may compel governments or interest groups to propose legislation limiting internet access to certain sites.
In Canada, the most recent proposal involves limiting access to sites that are known for hosting copyrighted material (Geist 1). However, the problem with this type of legislation is that it gives too much control over what type of information can or cannot be accessed (Powers and Jablonski 25). In countries such as China, for instance, there is much more regulation over the internet. While some of these restrictions are designed to prevent crimes from occurring, in countries where internet censorship is accepted, this leads to broadening the scope of censorship to include censoring news sources or public forums that the government does not agree with (Chomhaill et al. 1448). Thus, the basic problem is that it introduces a slippery slope, where the government soon begins to decide what people should and shouldn’t be sharing online.
Another problem with internet censorship is that it does not necessarily follow the legal framework of most countries, including Canada. The way the law works is that when crimes are committed, the individual committing these crimes becomes accountable for the crime. For someone downloading copyrighted material, this would be a crime. The same could be said for the person uploading this material for distribution. However, it should not be a crime to simply access the site, and it is not practical to hold the owner of the site liable for its misuse. In the same way a messenger service cannot be held responsible for people sending each other illegal materials, it would not make sense to punish the owner of a hosting site if people misuse the platform. Essentially, attempting to regulate the internet through various forms of censorship is not practical, and it opens the possibility that sites will soon be banned for political reasons. In fact, the United Nations Human Rights Council has decreed that internet access is a human right (Velocci 1), so attempting to restrict access is a stripping away of a human right.
The internet is a public platform and should be considered as such. This means that law enforcement’s role should be to apprehend persons who use this platform for illegal means, but it does not mean that law enforcement or the government should seek to prevent crimes from occurring by limiting human rights. Because of the public nature of the internet, this also means there can be an expectation of a loss of privacy. However, as long as one realizes that whatever one posts on a public site can be accessed, then there should be common sense in its use, such as avoiding placing personal information in a public space.
Overall, social change that has occurred because of the internet has had a positive effect; people are more educated on world issues than ever before, and while there is the occasional site spreading false information, there are many other sources that can disprove these false claims. As long as there is basic internet education, in the same way we teach children to look both ways before crossing the street, people should be able to use the internet without restrictions, as long as their actions do not infringe upon the rights of others. The internet will still be a place where certain crimes might be committed, but regulating the internet is not the solution; instead, it should involve stronger prosecutorial measures for actual criminals, and not based on blanket policies that simply restrict internet access.
- Chomhaill, Treasa Nic Giolla, et al. “Internet censorship in China.” Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Third Edition. IGI Global, 2015. 1447-1451.
- Geist, Michael. “Why the CRTC should reject FairPlay’s dangerous website-blocking plan.” The Globe and Mail, 2018. Accessible online at http://theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/why-the-crtc-should-reject-fairplays-dangerous-website-blocking-plan/article37818403/
- MacKinnon, Rebecca. Consent of the networked: The worldwide struggle for Internet freedom. Basic Books, 2013.
- Powers, Shawn M., and Michael Jablonski. The real cyber war: The political economy of internet freedom. University of Illinois Press, 2015.
- Velocci, Carli. “Internet Access is Now a Basic Human Right.” Gizmodo, 2016. Accessible online at http://www.gizmodo.com/internet-access-is-now-a-basic-human-right-1783081865