Resolution Adopted by the CCAR
Resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees of the
Central Conference of American Rabbis, May 1999
The advent of new forms of communication technology is always a cause for excitement and apprehension. This was true for the printing press and the telephone as it was for the radio and the television. Like each of these technologies, the Internet has given rise to a number of concerns: hate speech, invasions of privacy, pornography, falsified information, and sexual predators. But the constitutional ideal provided in the First Amendment is immutable regardless of the medium: a free society is based on the principle that each and every individual has the right to decide what kind of communication he or she wants–or does not want–to receive or create.
In Reno v. ACLU (1997), the United States Supreme Court struck down the communications Decency Act (CDA), which would have made it a crime to communicate “indecent” materials on the Internet. This historic decision recognizes that the Internet, like books, newspapers and other forms of communication, is entitled to the same level of Constitutional protection as other forms of communication.
It is not an overstatement to assert that it is the First Amendment that made the United States the refuge of choice for Jews and others throughout the world when faced with persecution and oppression in countries without equivalent guarantees. As members of a religious minority whose history is so dominated by oppression, we are especially sensitive to any effort to weaken the safeguards of pluralism and minority expression. This includes even objectionable and offensive speech and expression, knowing that if the rights of all are not safe than the rights of none are safe.
That statement of principle guides us as we consider the concerns raised by the Internet. While some propose that schools, libraries and other public facilities employ filters to bar access to pornography, others argue that governmentally mandated filters are inconsistent with constitutionally protected freedom of speech. In practice, such filters not only block material that is legally obscene or “inappropriate” for minors; they block a much wider spectrum of speech and are incapable of discerning between constitutionally protected and unprotected material. Filtering software may restrict access to valuable constitutionally protected online speech about topics ranging from safe sex, AIDS, gay and lesbian issues, news articles, and women’s rights, which in no way can be considered pornographic and to which there is no reason to deny access. At the same time, filters provide a false sense of security that minors will be protected from all material that some parents may find inappropriate.
Still, parents may choose to use filters in their homes, just as they choose to regulate the television shows their children watch. Private use of filters is protected under the First Amendment and should not be infringed upon. We only need to be concerned when the government interferes with the freedom of expression.
Further the Internet poses new and challenging privacy concerns. Previously private information–medical records, addresses information, social security numbers, credit card data and general credit information–has the potential to be accessed by any computer savvy person. It is the right of each individual to have control over their own personal data. No one should have access to data about others without the others’ consent.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Central Conference of American Rabbis: