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[gnu.announce] Censoring GNU Emacs

das war heute in den news

------- Start of forwarded message -------
From: Richard Stallman <rms@gsyc.inf.uc3m.es>
Subject: Censoring GNU Emacs
Newsgroups: gnu.announce,gnu.emacs.announce,gnu.misc.discuss
To: info-gnu-emacs@gnu.ai.mit.edu
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 1996 00:36:57 +0100
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		Censoring My Software
		   Richard Stallman
[From Datamation, March 1 1996]

Last summer, a few clever legislators proposed a bill to "prohibit
pornography" on the Internet. Last fall, the right-wing Christians
made this cause their own. Last week, President Clinton signed the
bill. This week, I'm censoring GNU Emacs.

No, GNU Emacs does not contain pornography. It's a software package,
an award-winning extensible and programmable text editor. But the law
that was passed applies to far more than pornography. It prohibits
"indecent" speech, which can include anything from famous poems, to
masterpieces hanging in the Louvre, to advice about safe sex . . .to

Naturally, there was a lot of opposition to this bill. Not only from
people who use the Internet and people who appreciate erotica, but
from everyone who cares about freedom of the press.

But every time we tried to tell the public what was at stake, the
forces of censorship responded with a lie: They told the public that
the issue was simply pornography. By embedding this lie as a
presupposition in their other statements about the issue, they
succeeded in misinforming the public. So now I am censoring my

You see, Emacs contains a version of the famous "doctor program,"
a.k.a. Eliza, originally developed by Professor Weizenbaum at MIT.
This is the program that imitates a Rogerian psychotherapist. The user
talks to the program, and the program responds--by playing back the
user's own statements, and by recognizing a long list of particular

The Emacs doctor program was set up to recognize many common curse
words and respond with an appropriately cute message such as, "Would
you please watch your tongue?" or "Let's not be vulgar." In order to
do this, it had to have a list of curse words. That means the source
code for the program was indecent.

So this week I removed that feature. The new version of the doctor
doesn't recognize the indecent words; if you curse at it, it replays
the curse back to you--for lack of knowing better. (When the new
version starts up, it announces that it has been censored for your

Now that Americans face the threat of two years in prison for indecent
network postings, it would be helpful if they could access precise
rules for avoiding imprisonment via the Internet. However, this is
impossible. The rules would have to mention the forbidden words, so
posting them on the Internet would violate those same rules.

Of course, I'm making an assumption about just what "indecent" means.
I have to do this, because nobody knows for sure. The most obvious
possible meaning is the meaning it has for television, so I'm using
that as a tentative assumption. However, there is a good chance that
our courts will reject that interpretation of the law as

We can hope that the courts will recognize the Internet as a medium of
publication like books and magazines. If they do, they will entirely
reject any law prohibiting "indecent" publications on the Internet.

What really worries me is that the courts might choose a muddled
half-measure--by approving an interpretation of "indecent" that
permits the doctor program or a statement of the decency rules, but
prohibits some of the books that any child can browse through in the
public library. Over the years, as the Internet replaces the public
library, some of our freedom of speech will be lost.

Just a few weeks ago, another country imposed censorship on the
Internet. That was China. We don't think well of China in this
country--its government doesn't respect basic freedoms. But how well
does our government respect them? And do you care enough to preserve
them here?

If you care, stay in touch with the Voters Telecommunications Watch.
Look in their Web site http://www.vtw.org/ for background information
and political action recommendations. Censorship won in February, but
we can beat it in November.

Copyright 1996 Richard Stallman. Verbatim copying and distribution is permitted
in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

------- End of forwarded message -------


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