There is an idea making the rounds on some blogs that I am in favor of censoring free speech on the Internet.
This is based on a misinterpretation of comments Ive made to the effect that a national firewall might someday be necessary to protect Americans from Internet crime.
While I do not believe commercial speech—cigarette commercials, for example—deserves the same protection as political, artistic or religious expression, I dont think that qualifies me as a censor.
Sweden, for example, does not allow television advertising to be directed at children because they believe its harmful to them.
I think that would be an excellent protection for our children (and parents) as well, but dont think it makes me a censor or Sweden a country that lacks free speech.
By the standards of most, perhaps all, European democracies, Americans take free speech to an extreme.
I am glad we do, but also accept that with freedom comes responsibility.
It wouldnt bother me if Howard Stern were to be jailed on indecency charges, and I am in favor keeping the "seven words" off radio and television.
However, if someone wants to stand up in a public square and use those words as part of political, religious or artistic expression, that should be allowed, even encouraged.
But, when someone in another country—beyond the reach of American laws—starts serving child pornography to American pedophiles, is it "censorship" to deny them electronic access to their customers?
If you think kiddie porn should be protected speech, I really have nothing to say to you.
I am not talking about someone arguing a political position with which I disagree, promoting a religion Im not a part of, or even posting artwork that I think stinks.
I am talking about criminals making money by exploiting children and encouraging pedophiles here in America to continue their illegal activities, but doing this from beyond the reach of our laws.
When we find these sites being hosted here in the United States, we have criminal penalties to impose. But what if the site is located in another country?
Some people have suggested we deny entry to these criminals when they try to come to the United States or have them arrested where they live and extradited for trial.
Both those alternatives are naïve in the extreme and presume the ability to actually find the criminals.
Once identified, wed stop these criminals from entering the United States (why would they want to?) or their local law enforcement would take our complaints seriously and make arrests.
If those methods would work, Id be all for them, but I cant imagine they would be terribly effective.
Yet, when I suggest that it might be worthwhile to have the ability to filter objectionable sites at our electronic borders, I am lumped in with the Chinese, who clearly filter political and religious speech to prop up their Communist dictatorship.
Regular readers of my column are well aware that I dont look at the Chinese governments intentions towards the United States as benignly as most of my peers.
If my critics were aware of a recent situation, in which I was erroneously led to believe that an American company was providing the Chinese with such filtering software, I think they would better understand my position.