GOODIES TO GO! (tm)
May 3, 1999 -- Newsletter #26
GOODIES TO GO! (tm)
May 3, 1999 -- Newsletter #26
Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com
Do you recognize these words?
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Like all of you, I was horrified to watch and read about the school shootings and bombings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I watched the coverage with great interest, especially the section regarding Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's use of the Internet.
A reporter made the statement that the two gunmen found recipes for pipe bombs and other explosives easily on the Internet. I had heard that type of statement before so I decided I would actually try to find this information myself.
It took me 42 seconds to find the ingredients for a pipe bomb on the Net. My wife said it best when she quickly commented, "Let's get out of this. I don't like this."
I didn't like it either. The page was a true dichotomy. On one hand it offered information on how to create a high powered explosive, and on the other it offered specific safety instructions for the correct usage of explosives. It was both a protectorate and a perpetrator.
Strangely, the page had quite an affect on me. I only read the method of creating the bomb once, yet I can still recite it word for word. It's nothing I take great joy in, but I still find it strange. It's like the vision of a car accident you can't seem to shake loose.
The text that started off this newsletter is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This text is cited more often than any other part of U.S. governing text.
I talked to two of my classes of students about what the First Amendment means, what it allows you to do. I was especially concerned about the "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech" section.
Most of the students knew that the amendment was not carte blanche to say anything you want, any time you want, to anyone you want. In fact, because of the First Amendment being challenged in court again and again, there are 13 (as far as I found) restrictions upon free speech. The most popular would have to be the familiar one about yelling "Fire!" in a crowded movie house.
Other places where freedom of speech doesn't fully apply include:
1. Maintaining the integrity of the judicial process
2. In order to maintain the reliability and preparedness of the armed services
3. Fighting words that tend to incite immediate violence, offensive speech to a hostile, potentially violent audience, false statements likely to cause panic (the "fire in a crowded movie house" restriction).
4. Untrue defamatory speech (slander) or other communication (libel).
"But..." one student shouted, "The First Amendment can't apply to posting to the Internet about how to create a bomb."
Ah, but it does.
Those who wish to find support for their posting the ingredients of any type of explosive need only look back to 1979, long before the Internet was a popular place to post this kind of information.
Back then, a man named Howard Morland wrote an article for the magazine "The Progressive" that explained how one could go about building an H-Bomb. The article was fairly detailed and easily gave someone with a little background knowledge everything they needed to know about creating a lethal, to say the least, weapon.
Justice officials immediately brought suit in a Wisconsin federal district court. They, and the judge for that matter, believed Morland would present a danger so serious that restraint would be justified. The government, in the case of "U.S. vs. The Progressive," claimed that nuclear weapon secrets were "classified at birth" because allowing them to get out would corrupt the "reliability and preparedness of the armed services."
Morland countered that he had not revealed any secrets, but rather found everything he needed by reading through published articles and journals already in print. He had written the article by going to government and public libraries to gather information. His purpose, claimed he and "The Progressive," was to point out that there are no secrets regarding nuclear weaponry and that anyone could do what he did.
Morland lost. The judge himself, Robert W. Warren, claimed that what he was doing was a grave violation of the First Amendment, but that the brevity of the situation called for this type of decision.
That statement, of course, opened the way for "The Progressive" to appeal. They did, but the case never got fully through. Six months later the entire proceeding was dropped when a computer programmer wrote, and a Wisconsin newspaper printed, basically the same information Morland tried to publish a year earlier. Six other newspapers picked up the story and ran the letter, which included everything from a list of ingredients to a diagram of the bomb's mechanism. The author (whose name I could not find) claimed he found all he wrote about in public documents.
No one was charged, no one was prosecuted, and "The Progressive" ran the Morland article in November of 1979 under the title "The H-Bomb Secret: To Know How Is to Ask Why."
The precedent was set. As long as the information you are providing comes from public sources, you can pretty much print anything, including the recipe for a pipe bomb. And when you do, you're protected under the First Amendment right of free speech.
Before the Internet, getting information out to a mass audience was a bit tougher. Newspapers, magazines, and broadcast facilities were the main methods, and those mediums could refuse to run your story.
You could create a newsletter or do a mass mailing, but then the cost or rules governing the mail system could put an end to your dissemination of information.
Today, the Internet is a blank palette that carries no gatekeeping and no editorial restraints. There's nothing to stop a person from posting pipe bomb instructions, pornography, hate sites, or myriad other topics that someone else will find offensive.
One of my students felt that was both the horror and the beauty of the Internet. Once restraints are placed on a topic because someone else dislikes the message, it's only a matter of time before everything that offends anyone becomes taboo.
I'd like to tell you I know the answer, but I don't. It seems this web of computers has truly become too large to police, and even if we tried... who is to say what is good and what is bad? I agree, the pipe bomb recipes should come down. It offends me, but giving someone the right to eliminate something because it offends them offends me even more.
As was pointed out to me by my 10th grade government teacher, "The First Amendment guarantees you the right to say just about anything you want. What it does not guarantee is that anyone will listen."
And that's that. Thank you for reading.
Joe Burns, Ph.D.
And Remember: Men's shirts button with the left side overlapping the right while woman's blouses overlap from the right. Why? It's because it is easiest for a right- handed person to button when the overlap is on the left. Back when buttons were first used, men used to dress themselves and women were usually "dressed" by someone else. Thus, the buttoning was backward for a woman so her dresser would have an easier time of it. I guess the pattern just stuck.