Technology's challenges to the First Amendment

by Walter S. Baer

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Advances in media and information technologies carry with them new threats to our traditional concept of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as opportunities to protect and extend those freedoms. The growing use of computer databanks, electronic message and information services, and new telephone options such as Caller-ID bring concerns about invasions of personal privacy, restricted access to public information stored in government databases, and possible new forms of censorship. But the same technologies are being used to expand access to and limit the power of governments to control information. On balance, the new information technologies empower us, even as they confuse and sometimes enrage us. As the new electronic media develop, some old laws must be amended and some new laws and regulations passed, but they must be flexible instruments that can respond to a rapidly changing information environment. More than government regulation, the free contention of ideas in an era of technical abundance is the best protector of First Amendment freedoms.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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