Click Here to Search COSHE’s Database Again
freedom of expression on the internet
First and foremost, in the United States the freedom of expression is guaranteed in the first Article of Amendment to the American Constitution. It states, "Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or the press…" This is significant beyond its mere primacy in the U.S. Bill of Rights. It does not establish the freedom of expression, but rather, in recognizing its existence, guarantees it. Freedom of expression has been a part of the American way since long before the American Revolution. Alexis de Toqueville, on touring the United States over 150 years ago recognized this, writing in _Democracy in America, "The Anglo-Americans have enjoyed this liberty ever since the foundation of the Colonies…" Americans have always felt free to express their opinion.
By guaranteeing both freedoms of speech and press, the American Constitution recognizes both personal and broadcast expression, clearly embracing the advancements and proliferation of communications technology. Unfortunately People leave tracks as they move through electronic networks. Whenever we do business, electronically or otherwise, the other party knows something about our preferences and activities. But when we use the new electronic vending machines and digital cash, the merchants with whom we deal can keep a detailed record that reveals much more, in aggregate,about our activities. Store and forward messaging systems can continue to store after they forward. As we all conduct more and more of our lives on the networks. It is the freedom of expression itself that moderates the impact of radical different opinions. The only fear of Internet freedom is its lack of use by the holders of contrary, yet more mainstream opinions. As the electronic frontier matures, there will be continual conflicts between those who want free access to information and those who want to participate in the networks without automatically giving up all rights to control the flow of the resulting transactional data. Before we treat these conflicts as appropriate matters for a new type of "property" law, however, we should remember that almost everyone will be on both sides of any new "fence." If we approach this problem by allowing a variety of new spaces to develop — allowing users to reward and punish optimal sets of rules by sending their business to the stores of sysops (system operators) who get the rules right, we’ll have saved a lot of unnecessary transaction costs and we’ll all end up owning a more civilized patch of cyberspace that is appropriately (by our own lights) accommodating to both privacy and freedom of speech.
In American tradition, the value of the individual, and individual opinion, is held in high esteem. Free expression is the means by which consensus is reached and central authority is balanced. In this democracy, expression of opinion and debate is a part of the political process. In a sense, expression is not just a right, but a duty. It is the means by which public opinion is reached, and public policy made. The exceptional opinion, no matter how distasteful or controversial to the majority, must be protected.