Censorship by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D.

© 2002 Equal Justice Foundation


 

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Censorship is an essential component of war. Ship and troop locations and movements must be kept secret. Communications must be monitored and spies intercepted. Events, even disasters, must be presented in a favorable light in order to ensure the support of the populace. Disinformation and propaganda are as essential as secrecy.

But the temptation to censor or classify information in order to cover incompetence, fraud, waste, theft, and other crimes virtually always overcomes some government officials. Napoleonic France had a saying: "To lie like a bulletin," regarding official communiques. Hitler openly used the idea that a lie repeated often enough by officials would inevitably be believed, and that the Big Lie is more likely to be believed than small fabrications.

Simply withholding information is also an effective method of censorship. It is reported that in Russia Stalin used the method where 100,000 books favorable to Communism were published but only 2,000 books presenting opposing views were printed. Today, with regard to the hysteria surrounding domestic violence we find a "lace curtain" has been drawn by the publishing industry wherein only violent men are portrayed in print and screen, and all women are innocent "victims."

In the wake of the Nixon Watergate scandals Congress passed the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) to reduce the amount of information the government could withhold from citizens. That act has been hailed as one of our greatest democratic reforms.

Naturally, the FOIA has proved to be of great embarrassment to many government officials. But far be it from any bureaucrat to use the information to correct their misconduct. Instead, the natural inclination of such creatures is to crawl back under their rock and make it illegal to turn over rocks in the future.

The tragic events of 9-11 provided perfect cover for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to issue a memo without fanfare on October 12, 2001, in which he vigorously urged federal agencies to resist most FOIA requests made by American citizens.

Rather than asking federal officials to pay special attention when the public's right to know might collide with the government's need to safeguard our security, Ashcroft instead asked them to consider whether "...institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests could be implicated by disclosure of the information."

Continuing in an even more chilling vein, he wrote:

"When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records."

Attorney General Ashcroft's actions to derail the FOIA under cover of war were soon followed by an executive order by President Bush on November 1, 2001, that allows him to seal all presidential records since 1980, despite laws that require such records to be made available after twelve years.

What are they hiding? And past experience suggests that looking under these rocks won't yield pleasant surprises.

Governments are not the only ones interested in presenting only their side of the story. Many groups with an ideologic agenda find it convenient, if not essential to their survival, to ensure that only their side of the story is told.

Communism and Naziism are recent historical examples. Gender feminism today, with its "politically correct" agenda, seeks to provide only one side of the issues, as supported by "advocacy research" in which the outcome is determined by the ideology rather than the facts.

Opposing feminism is painted in propaganda as denying Mom and apple pie. As a result, a "lace curtain" has been drawn by the media across such issues as child abuse and domestic violence. Such censorship is felt to be essential in order to protect the vast public funding these groups now receive.

The "lace curtain" maintains its integrity by various means. For example, in August, 2001, several groups were flown to Houston, Texas, to film a segment on "Good Girls Gone Bad" for the Debra Duncan show on an ABC affiliate station. However, one abusive ex-wife from Maine apparently heard about the show and threatened to sue. Even though this woman has been arrested for knocking the man's current wife to the ground, the ABC network attorneys lacked backbone, or held to the feminist ideology, and the show was never aired.

As in times of yore, censorship involves banning the book in Boston, or better yet ensuring it is never printed. If it is printed, then "politically correct" groups across the country can be counted on to steal it off the bookshelves or from libraries.

On university campuses across the country newspapers expressing unpopular, i.e., not "politically correct," opinions are taken from newsstands and trashed to prevent the spread of unpopular ideas. Nor are such actions limited to college campuses. In Eagle, the conservative paper Speakout! has been trashed by school teachers after their competence was called into question. And book burning is still a popular past time, as in the case of the Harry Potter fad.

While we presently don't engage in burning heretics at the stake for refusing to accept the current ideology or religion, such prominent women as Erin Pizzey have been driven into exile by death threats and harassment for daring to publish a book showing that women are as violent as men in the home.

But the problem of censorship isn't as simple today as it once was. With the advent of the Web, most current information is available globally via the Internet. So ensuring the local paper or radio stations don't carry an item of information doesn't mean the populace won't hear of it. Thus, other means of censorship have come into play.

Everyone has heard of "computer hacking" but few are aware of the extent to which it is occurring and how successful it is. In the year 2000 the US military is estimated to have received about 250,000 computer attacks, of which approximately 65% were at least somewhat successful. At present they often receive that many attacks in a single day and they most certainly don't advertise how vulnerable they are. To defend against such attacks is an essential component of modern warfare but such methods also lend themselves to censorship.

On the personal level, I receive a minimum of two attacks a day with five or six the norm. Commonly these attacks occur immediately after I log on to the Internet, or go to a particular Web site. Even Macintosh, previously nearly immune to hacks, are successfully attacked today unless firewall software is installed.

Thus, if your computer doesn't have firewall protection it is a virtual certainty your computer is being invaded if you are connected to the Internet. The possibilities for controlling the information you can see and hear are therefore immense and growing.

The Clinton administration wanted to put a microchip in all computers to monitor them, and at the same time the FBI developed its Carnivore program to monitor your e-mail. Such techniques are fundamental to censorship and, of course, in wartime we don't hear about what is currently being done. Without the FOIA we are not likely to learn.

Another form of modern censorship that is constantly attempted is "denial of service" and that takes many forms.

One method is to send viruses, worms, and trojan horses hoping to control or disable our computers, or to spread these viruses through mailing lists. Companies often receive hundreds of such attacks a day, and many individuals using e-mail receive several a week. Anyone who doesn't update their virus definitions at least once a week is almost sure to be infected eventually as viruses grow and multiply. I have known companies claim to be free of viruses when in fact more than fifty trojan horses, worms, and viruses existed on virtually every machine in their network.

Problems of hacking and viruses are of particular concern when one looks at such fundamental activities as computer voting. Since access can often be had from anywhere in the world, the results of an election may depend more on the whims of a teenage hacker, or the will of a foreign government, than the wishes of the electorate.

Another method of censorship used against unpopular Web sites is to notify the service provider that a copyright violation exists on the site. As that violates the service rules for virtually all ISP's, as well as the law, the site will commonly be taken down without further investigation.

Ideologically-driven groups have also been know to claim a Web site they dislike is being used for sending or generating spam (unwanted commercial email). For example, a group of about 40 people, apparently centered in New Zealand, did that in October, 2001, and shut the www.dvmen.org site down for several days. The fact that the site cannot possibly be used to generate spam is irrelevant in dealing with self-appointed censors.

Note that these methods work regardless of location. A Colorado Web site is readily censored from New Zealand. A voting machine is infected from China via Texas. So the means and methods of ideologically-driven groups, whether government or private, of controlling information, and basic freedoms such as a secret election, continue to grow despite the freedom of information provided by the Internet.

It is said the Soviet Union was defeated by fax, copy machines, and microchips. Since then the means and methods of tyranny and oppression have grown. However, the opportunities to spread ideas and truth have never been greater. For example, it is a rare scientist these days who doesn't maintain a Web site to make their results public and communicate with their colleagues. The job then of dominating and controlling free men and women has been infinitely multiplied. Thus, it is unlikely such actions as sidestepping the Freedom of Information Act will succeed but tyrants are unlikely to stop trying to censor what we see and hear.

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