WEEKLY WEB WATCH: Can the new prohibition beat the Internet untouchables?

The Internet has an irresistible attraction for politicians who want to restrict individual freedoms, especially the freedom enshrined in the First Amendment. The latest such attempt is the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act currently being sponsored in the Senate by Orrin Hatch and Diane Feinstein.

The Internet has an irresistible attraction for politicians who want to restrict individual freedoms, especially the freedom enshrined in the First Amendment. The latest such attempt is the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act currently being sponsored in the Senate by Orrin Hatch and Diane Feinstein.

The Internet has an irresistible attraction for politicians who

want to restrict individual freedoms, especially the freedom enshrined

in the First Amendment. The latest such attempt is the Methamphetamine

Anti-Proliferation Act currently being sponsored in the Senate by Orrin

Hatch and Diane Feinstein.



The bill specifically singles out the Internet in attempting to ban the

discussion of the use of banned drugs, and specifically bans even

linking to sites which do so. It is ostensibly about the control of

methamphetamine, which is widely agreed to be a dangerous drug. But its

language is so all-embracing that everything from the potheads’

lifestyle magazine High Times to news sites that carry stories linking

to drug-related web sites would fall foul of it. Under the terms of the

bill, putting the address of High Times (www.hightimes.com) or Cannabis

Culture (www.cannabisculture.com) into this article would be illegal. So

would including the address of the cheekily-designed marijuana ’portal’

site Yahookah (www.ya-hookah.com).



Drug law reform advocates haven’t wasted time in pointing out that even

talking about the medical uses of marijuana would be a felony (see

www.marijuannews.com).



Or in some cases, even advocating the reform of drug laws, since this

too could be deemed to ’encourage’ the use of controlled substances.



Anyone who has used the Internet for even half an hour would wonder how

anyone could be held responsible for the content of sites they link

to.



And then, given the deluge of drug-related sites out there, they would

wonder how such a law could possibly be policed fairly. Fairness is

especially in doubt since the law, if passed, would take as one of its

criteria for whether a crime has been committed the ’intent’ of the

person responsible for a site or linking to one. So it would be all

right for Orrin Hatch to link to a particular site or to publish facts

about marijuana cultivation, since he is clearly anti-marijuana. It

would not be all right for High Times to publish those same facts, or

link to similar sites. The ’war on drugs,’ as attempts to legislate

opinions and speech in this way reveal, is not so much about the health

of the nation as it is about control, specifically control by a ’moral

elite’ of how the rest of the nation may obtain enjoyment from life. And

once again the Internet seems to be taking the brunt of it.



Anyone in the opinion business - as both PR professionals and

journalists are - should find such attempts to legislate opinion and

speech nothing less than chilling. Our business is in influencing and

persuading rather than trying to control. And we depend on being able

sometimes to hold and argue for some unpopular views. And by extension,

we depend on the freedom of those we oppose to do so as well.



Lest you think there is nothing in this, remember we’re talking about

Orrin Hatch, a Senator who once famously endorsed a booklet which warns

parents that an ’excessive preoccupation’ with social causes, race

relations and the environment might be symptoms of marijuana use by

their children.



You’d think legislators would have learned the lessons of

Prohibition.



Instead, the prohibitionists of the 1990s are simply damaging what

little credibility legislators have left after the Monica Lewinsky

debacle. To attempt to ban information is simply to prove that you can’t

win the argument on the basis of the facts



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