Censorship is the act of preventing or the controlled revision of specifically defined ideals, concepts, images, or messages from being available to a given population. Strictly speaking, and in its original usage, censorship refers to the control of information by governments. Sometimes, however, non-governmental entities are said to practice censorship. Censorship is sometimes said to be employed by corporations in order to shape public perception. Legal means such as Non-Disclosure Agreements, information security classification (e.g., SECRET), and contract stipulation can provide legal ramifications for violating terms of agreement that specify what can or cannot be said.
The prominence of censorship can be always debated depending on the position, viewpoint, and motivation of the parties involved in the dispute. It may be difficult to prove censorship claims as evidence supporting this position is usually a pre-requisite. But what if the evidence itself is censored? This makes a claim even more difficult to prove. Such cases are highly ambiguous, and would most likely warrant an investigation to prove any element of wrong-doing.
Censorship as a necessity
In some situations, organizations, governments, or individuals self-task themselves with promoting "appropriate social norms" by seeking to instill censorship. This kind of censorship may be sanctioned or agreed upon by the majority of that society. Those societies that adhere to those specific social norms often work to root out self-defined "societal obscenities": pornography, or violence-infused media for example.
In Florida, an attorney by the name of Jack Thompson started a public advocacy campaign in 1997 against violence in video games in order to promote censorship of the kinds of content depicted in them for youths. Nationwide in the 1970s and 1980s, Lawrence Flynt became a target of public censorship and prosecution by religious and moral groups for the production of his well-known magazine in the 1970s and 1980s.
On a much larger scale, governments may perceive that the use of censorship provides a long term benefit, or accomplishment of a political objective. The "great firewall", which is run by the Chinese government, is a means to control the influence of outside politics from entering the country through media and information channels, such as the internet. In this way, there is a minimization of democratic influence that can be disseminated. However, political dissidents do exist and are pursued and persecuted for being so.
Similarly, corporate censorship may work to achieve similar goals as governments; the motivation is to maintain a certain commercial image or perspective both within and outside of the company. A change in the image could have dramatic effects on its immediate and distinct value(s), resulting in a negative perception of the corporation.
The needs of censorship are not only restricted to the shaping of opinions and values, but sometimes a requirement for the individual. To maintain an element of privacy, such items as medical records and personal lifestyle information are protected by laws that provide harsh consequences for those that break them. Personal harm to the individual may happen should exposure of that type of information occur.
Individuals may also impart a certain amount of self-censorship for sake of their own well being. It provides a personal "check" against their own moral values and established social norms--the ability to discern what is "right" and "wrong" and if their behavior reflects that.
Censorship vs Security
In the post 9/11 United States, the George W. Bush Administration has put forth the argument that security is paramount to privacy; this has been a trend going back at least to the Reagan Administration; see operations security.
In this effort, the claim of "National Security" or "State Secret" has been used more than any other previous administration. A large amount of what would be disclosed, audited, reviewed, or released to the public has been censored, in order to protect information.
Theodore B. Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States, wrote in an Amicus Brief for the Supreme Court that “The perhaps unfortunate reality is that the issuance of incomplete information and even misinformation by government may sometimes be perceived as necessary to protect vital interests," asserting that position.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution explicitly protects the freedom of speech and press. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted it with mixed results in regards of censorship. Some jurists, such as Hugo Black, argued that most forms of censorship is unconstitutional, while others believe that some censorship should be upheld.
- The Supreme Court of the United States (January 2002). Brief For The United States As Amicus Curiae Supporting Petitioners, No. 01-394 "Warren Christopher, Former Secretary of State, Et Al. v. Jennifer K. Harbury". Retrieved on 2007-10-16.