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May 4, 1999

Inside Technology

FREEDOM OF SPEECH - The Age of Cyberspace

by Tracy Blair

It seems only fitting, as we break for the summer, to take another look at Freedom of Speech on the Internet. Over the past several months, we have taken in-depth looks at every issue from Constitutional Rights, to Cyberwars. It becomes increasingly clear, as we move further into an era built on technology, that cultures and their way of life are changing due the steady flow of outside influence. Each day a new issue is raised about what should or should not be allowed over the Internet, and whether or not anyone has the right to make that judgment.

From “spam” mail to virus infection, from harassment to child pornography, each issue has its own individual effect on the face of our future. Everyone, from State District Attorneys to Supreme Court Judges, is having their say about what the future will be. But more than that, we - - the individuals -- have what may be the greatest opportunity to mold our own future. Now, more than ever before, the people of the world have the means to affect culture, politics, even war. Never has that been clearer than during the recent events in Yugoslavia.

In last issue's column, we looked at how messages from both sides of a conflict could affect the public's opinion. Nameless faces have become real people, speaking to us personally through our computers. This writer received numerous letters from people inside Yugoslavia, with words that bring home the truth about war.

"Last night, I saw explosions (cruise missiles) in north-western part of Belgrade from my balcony. I also heard heavy AA defense gunfire during the attack on southern parts of the city (I could not see them all, because nearby buildings are partly closing my view). Real hell was in the other parts of Yugoslavia in the past two days..."

One woman wrote, "I made my way to Dragodan. When we reached it, we were stopped by police. They asked to see our papers and when they saw that Nora and Arsim were Albanian, the one in charge ordered them out of the car. I got out too, saying we all worked for the same organization and were looking for a friend. The officer replied that Albanians no longer worked in Serbia and should be on their way to Macedonia. I asked since when police had the authority to fire people and he yelled at me to get back in the car and shut up. I sat on the seat, leaving the door open and my legs outside the car. He slammed the door against my legs, saying Serbia was being ruined by such Serbs."

This type of human drama is being played out on e-mails and computers all over the world. Both Serbian and Albanian people are telling their stories for all to hear. For the first time, individuals have a voice from inside of war-torn countries. In return, voices are reaching those people.

One woman, who cannot be quoted for her own safety writes, "In the first two weeks the activists from the Center talked about fear to women from 27 towns in 240 calls. We also received about 200 emails of support from different women and men around the world. And many of them are translated and are hanged on the peace poster on the wall."

This type of contact, crossing boundaries, countries and even wars, is the trademark of the new era we are coming into. People from all over the world now have the opportunity to explain ideals and theology to one another. Cultures once protected from outside interference cannot stop an ever-increasing flood of information. We are moving swiftly toward a more unified world, where every race and nation will have a lasting effect on the ultimate results. Web sites, mailing lists, newsletters and electronic magazines are being sent from every corner of the world, intent on raising awareness or spreading a message.

Technology has forever changed the way the world thinks and speaks. For good or bad, we are building our future on this foundation of information, in an Era of Technology, and the Age of Cyberspace.

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