Censorship and Freedom of Speech and of Information


László Fekete
Budapest University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration
Department of Philosophy
1828 Budapest, POB. 489.


At the beginning of the net, the systems operators had the power to control the content and the fair communication and to enforce the consensual rules of the small and informal communities of netizens in order to prevent offending messages and any unlawful use. The law and the conduct in the cyberspace seemed to be more tolerant, prudent and effective than their earthly counterparts. This practice worked quite effectively and successfully by the mid-1990. Because of the development of the network as an economically and culturally productive space of the global communication, more and more laic and religious groups (for example, the Church of Scientology, the American Family, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Christian Coalition, etc.) as well as the governments of the United States, the European Union, the Low Countries, Germany, and New Zealand – to mention a few – have been worried by net speech, unwarranted intrusions, and the abuse of the freedom of speech since the mid-1990’s. As the above-mentioned list demonstrates the cry for censorship comes from public and private sources. The first attempt to put the freedom of speech under the control of some kind of public morality was the Communications Decency Act attached to the Bill of Telecommunication (1996) in the United States. This amendment to a telecommunications reform finally was turned out to be unconstitutional. The privatization of the Internet makes this issue, especially, sensitive. Because no government does have right to transfer the jurisdiction of the court to the communication service providers. This would have been the case if had the Communications Decency Act passed. The arguments of the defenders of the freedom of speech are based on the First Amendment and the constitutions of the democratic societies as well as the notion of the knowledge-based society.

In this paper I want to give an overview of the different attempts, made by governments and international political organizations, of controlling the contents of information. And I argue against any political control and restriction. In addition, in the knowledge-based society, where the new communicative culture begins to be formed and the driving force of the economic growth comes from the communicatively distributed knowledge, the freedom of speech and the free access of information have outstanding importance.