Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace:
Freedom and Censorship on the Frontiers of the Online Revolution

Jonathan Wallace + Mark Mangan

Henry Holt 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997
Surprisingly few books on Internet censorship have appeared, and Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace fills an important niche between technical academic works and poorly researched rants. It is a captivatingly readable book, but one that is also full of solid legal analysis and intelligent exposition of the political and social issues.

Wallace and Mangan describe in detail the landmark events in the history of Internet censorship in the United States: the Amateur Action case, where a couple running an adult bulletin board in California were convicted under Tennessee obscenity legislation; Phil Zimmerman, PGP, and other matters cryptographic; the Jake Baker case (a university student posting "snuff" stories to Usenet); libel cases such as Cubby v. Compuserve which tested the liabilities of service providers; Scientology's attempt to stop online criticism using copyright law; Marty Rimm (the "Barnum of Cyberspace") and his infamous pornography study; information about bombs and explosives; and the Communications Decency Act. A final chapter looks back over the history of legal responses to new communication technologies and argues that the best analogy for the Net is "a constellation of printing presses and bookstores".

Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace is hardly news-breaking: the striking down of the CDA only just made it into the epilogue, for example, and there is no mention of PICS or controversies over filtering software. But the choice of topics and the level of treatment prevent it dating too rapidly (and also make much of it applicable outside the United States, despite the legal detail). There is also a web site associated with the book.

The subject is not one where impartiality is really an option, and Wallace and Mangan make no bones about being supporters of free speech. While this certainly influences their commentary, it does not appear to bias their legal analysis or prevent a balanced presentation. Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace is passionate without being at all strident, and indeed avoids hype of any kind. It would make a great introduction for the newcomer to the subject of Internet censorship, but even experienced activists will find it illuminating.

September 1997

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%T Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace
%S Freedom and Censorship on the Frontiers of the Online Revolution
%A Wallace, Jonathan
%A Mangan, Mark
%I Henry Holt
%D 1997
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 0805052984
%P xv,304pp