Government should balance security concerns, free speech in wake of attacks, speakers say

Monday, September 24, 2001
From left, Robin Gross, Adam Clayton Powell III, Marianne Barrett, Nancy Tribbensee and Roger Clyne discuss First Amendment cyberspace issues.

Government officials should work to balance security concerns about suspicious Internet use and the constitutional rights of citizens after the recent terrorist attacks, panelists agreed last week.

“It’s important to question the prevailing idea that there has to be a trade-off between freedom, liberty and security,” said Robin Gross, cyberspace intellectual property attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We shouldn’t accept that in order to have more security in this world we have to give up some of our liberties or some of our privacy.”

Gross spoke Sept. 18 during the panel discussion “The First Amendment in Cyberspace” as part of the First Amendment Festival at Arizona State University.

Described as a celebration and exploration of free expression, the festival was held Sept. 17-18 and was sponsored by the First Amendment Center, ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication, and The Arizona Republic.

In addition to Gross, the panel included moderator Marianne Barrett, an ASU associate professor; Adam Clayton Powell III, vice president of technology & programs at the First Amendment Center; Roger Clyne, singer/songwriter for the Peacemakers; and Nancy Tribbensee, ASU deputy general counsel.

The panel, initially planned as a forum to discuss new technology and Napster, turned immediately to the topic that was dominating news media coverage — the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

The panelists agreed that the government’s recent call for increased electronic surveillance of its citizens could pose a major threat to civil liberties.

Reports of the FBI installing its Carnivore system at some Internet providers to monitor and record cyberspace communication are troubling, Gross said. “The Carnivores snoop through e-mails and look through communications without a warrant,” she said. “That’s problematic from a privacy standpoint.”

Equally disturbing was the approval of legislation Sept. 13 by the U.S. Senate to make it easier for the FBI to obtain warrants for electronic eavesdropping, the panelists said.

“It’s important to decide which of these measures will actually improve our security and which are simply reactive measures because we feel the need to do something — anything — to protect ourselves,” Gross said.

This nation’s citizens can keep their free-speech rights and also enjoy adequate security, Powell said. “It’s not one or the other, but how you can achieve them both.”

The government’s efforts to more closely watch Internet users’ activity may mean that Americans will have far less liberty, but no more security, Gross said. “While we want to punish those who are responsible for the attacks, we don’t want to turn this into a nation of suspects in our effort to get at the terrorists,” she said.

But when does speech on the Internet, such as hate speech, go too far?

Tribbensee gave her perspective as a college representative. ASU has adopted First Amendment guidelines to protect speech, promote academic freedom and provide rules to allow campus administrators to respond creatively to situations in which Internet hate speech occurs, she said.

But sometimes the line between hate speech and unprotected speech is not so well defined, Barrett said.

If the speech is simply offensive, controversial or politically unpopular, the university tries to provide a forum for the involved participants to further discuss the matter, rather than suppress it, Barrett said.

“If it’s speech that’s threatening harm to an individual person we would treat that as we would any other kind of assault,” she said.

The First Amendment does not protect threats made on the Internet, Powell said. “If it’s legal to say something, to write it down on paper or print it in a newspaper, it’s probably legal to put it on the Internet,” he said. “If it’s not legal to say it, write it down or print it in a newspaper, then it’s probably not OK to put it on the Internet.”

Eventually the panelists addressed the topic of cyberspace and copyright protections.

Napster’s legal battles have brought copyright into the public debate, Gross said.

Last February, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Napster must stop people from using its service to download and distribute copyrighted music without charge and without restriction.

Copyright laws are designed to strike a balance between competing interests, Gross said. “On one hand you have the publishers that have a right to be compensated and exercise some degree of control over their works, and on the other hand there’s the public who gets fair-use rights and the home-taping rights,” she said.

The artists have the right to control reproduction, adaptation, public display and performance of their art, Gross said. But technology can change all that.

“Technology allows the public to be able to share without the artist being appropriately compensated,” she said. But technology also provides copyright holders with the tools to prevent works from being copied or even accessed, Gross said.

Powell said just as publishers are insecure with Internet services like Napster, they also were afraid of the effect VCRs and radios would have on their products.

Hollywood studios tried to outlaw the practice of home videotaping because they were afraid of losing money, Powell said. “Artists and intellectual property holders are in trouble if they try to restrict the distribution of music and movies over the Internet because the technology is working against them,” he said.

Powell said Internet users are now working on a “giant honor system.” He said although artists and publishers were afraid radio would rob them of a profit, they eventually changed their tune.

“Artists said, ‘The music’s gonna be free on the radio, why will people ever pay to buy my records?’ ” Powell said. “Well, in fact, playing music on the radio turned out to be a tremendous advantage to artists to sell records. Let’s hope there’s some analogy here somewhere — that the free distribution of music, literature, art and movies somehow becomes an incentive for something else. We just don’t know what that something else is yet.”

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