Internet Censorship

Richard A. Spinello, Boston College


What Is Censorship?

The First Amendment

Harmful Forms of Speech

Tools of the Censors

Security, Censorship, and “Points of Control”

Government Censorship

Private Censorship



Cross References



This chapter discusses the controversial topic of censorship in cyberspace. Censorship is sometimes undertaken in the name of securing a local network and client systems from the insidious exogenous influences emanating from the global Internet. Censors often seek to protect impressionable or vulnerable individuals from objectionable forms of speech that might be laced with pornographic images, xenophobia, or racism. Digital technology has enabled the privatization of censorship because it can be carried out not only by government authorities but also by private parties, including corporations and private schools, or libraries. Censorship can be achieved through public law or through software programs that constrain expression more opaquely than the law. As a result, to some degree censorship has become easier to achieve in cyberspace thanks to the use of such programs.

Although I refrain from reaching any normative conclusions about the use of censorship, this chapter argues that it should not be confused with security. Censorship is triggered by content that is unwelcome for various ideological reasons, but the goal of digital security should not be limitations on expression for ...

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