New technology often creates problems for American courts and it takes time for the legal system to catch up to changes such inventions bring to society.
Judges have wrestled with copyright problems on videotapes, telephone privacy, and theft by computer. The latest quandary also involves computers and the information stored in them.Are the electronic impulses in a computer, if they are used to send out electronic "bulletin boards" containing possibly illicit information, subject to seizure by police? Or are they like printing presses, which no jurist would order seized? The courts are not sure.
In a search for teenage computer hackers last year, police seized 42 computers and 23,000 floppy disks - the information storage material - in raids in 14 cities.
This raises a new but important question. Does the fact that computer "speech" is new technology mean that it is not protected speech?
If so, that seems to open up a dangerous precedent, particularly since computers are a growing part of modern life and may be even more pervasive in the future.
Legal experts are raising the question as to whether a constitutional amendment is necessary to protect freedom issues raised by new technology. But that seems redundant.
It's true that the U.S. Constitution doesn't say anything about electronic signals in the free speech portion of the First Amendment. But computer information should be subjected to the same free speech safeguards that surround speech and print.
As the San Francisco Examiner put it: "Governments should not be able to control the content of computers, and courts should not be blinded or confused by the technology. . . . The courts should establish the inviolate principle that freedom of speech embraces all technologies and media."
Wherever possible, the emphasis in America must be on individual freedom, not on control by the government. And that includes information in computers.