Internet Censorship Legislation & Regulation

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Senator Dan Coats bill to amend the Communications Act to make it a crime to publish on the Net any material that is "harmful to minors" (a censorship standard half-way between "obscenity" and "indecency") unless the site screens out minors. EFF believes this to be an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech and publication under the First Amendment. This contrasts with "harmful to minors" laws that the Supreme Court has upheld that provide for businesses to prevent access by minors when the *sole purpose* of the business is "harmful to minors" performances or products, on the one hand, and that provide for criminal penalties for willfully distributing "harmful matter" to known minors (e.g. giving out smut magazines on a playground), on the other hand. The Coats bill would in essence combine the two, and inapproriately apply the unholy union to anyone doing commerce on the Net, including individuals, publishers, and others who are neither knowingly targeting minors, nor in the pornography business, if anything they publish violates *any* US local community standards for what is appropriate for children. Worst of all, the bill is subtly *more* censorious than the CDA's "indecency" standard, as it covered even plain old "nudity", while introducing bizarre, and certainly vague and overbroad, terminology like "perverted", "normal", "lewd", etc., and would even make it a crime to *describe* someone "simulating" a sex act!
News release - Supreme Court announces it will hear the appeal of ACLU v. Reno (the Philadelphia anti-CDA constitutional challenge). While this does not indicate any predisposition of the Court to rule one way or the other, it is a good sign. Many cases challenging indecency regulation in broadcasting have met with the Supreme Court declining to hear the cases.
Text of Title 47, Section 223 of the US Code, as it would be amended by the Communications Decency Act
EFF's Mike Godwin, and Hal Abelson of MIT, respond to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh article in _Slate_, on Internet filters and CDA constitutional issues. Related material: (Volokh article), and (debate with _Slate_readers). July 30, 1996
Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet (French Association of Internet Users) press release regarding the the French Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) ruling Sen. Fillon's telecom reform bill Amendment No. 200 to be an impermissible violation of France's constitutution. The amendment sought to give Internet censorship power to executive branch ministries, when only the judicial system has the constitutional authority to rule on whether speech is protected expression or not. [If only the US had such a system...]
Trascript of a one-sided talk radio show hosted by the Family Research Council (the lobbying wing of Focus on the Family). Participants include: Kristi Hamrick (FRC), Marty Dannenfelser (FRC), Cathy Cleaver (FRC), Bruce Taylor (National Law Center for Children and Families), Colby May (American Center for Law and Justice). Nadine Strossen of the ACLU is briefly quoted. This is an interesting read - the theocrats confuse and outright lie about the law and the Internet even amongst themselves, before an audience they don't even have to lie to to convince.
Landmark decision in the ACLU v. Reno challenge to the Communications Decency Act. 3-judge panel rules CDA unconstitutional, issues injuntion against enforcement. Judges say Net deserves "at least as much protection" for free speech as print media! ASCII text version. (June 6, 1996)
EFF statement on anti-censorship ruling in CDA case.
Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet (French Association of Internet Users) condemnation of Sen. Fillon's Amendment No. 200 to the French Telecommunications Reform Bill. AUI calls the censorship provision "hasty, useless, unjustified, technically inapplicable, and dangerous to democracy and freedom of expression." The Constitutional Council of France struck the provision down.
Article by Leslie J. Hagin of Nat'l. Assoc. of Criminal Defense Lawyers, on the threats to civil liberties posed by HR 1710 and S 735, in particular their 'reform' of the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus.
Letter (to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich) signed by a number of leading law professors, urging the withdrawal or defeat of HR 1710, the Comprehensive Antiterrorism bill, on civil liberties grounds
ACLU alert regarding HR1555's "Manager's Mark" amendment, an Exon-bill-like provision that was "slipped in" to the House telecom bill.
ACLU alert, Aug. 4 95, regarding the Passage of HR1555, including the censorious "Managers' Mark" amendment.
ACLU alert regarding the Communications Decency Act
Administration statement regarding Senate Telecommunications Act, with a section on the Exon amendment
Letter from the American Family Association to Sen. Exon regarding his bill
Letter from the American Family Association to Sen. Pressler
Computer Underground Digest article about the Exon bill
original anti-CDA petition.
Declarlation of cyberspatial independence: EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow's response to the 1996 Telecommunications "Reform" Act's Communications "Decency" Amendment
CDT's Jerry Berman and Sen. Jim Exon go head-to-head on Internet censorship (transcript from _MacNeil/Lehrer_NewsHour_).
Condsider this a wake-up call. Our elected officials have spoken, and...our Constitutional rights in the new medium...have been unsurped. Strong EFF statement against the unconstitutional Communications Decency Act.
Draft amendment to the Exon Communications Decency Act
6/2/95 article by Dave Winer presenting the CDA debate in a new, interesting perspective
John Noring's exploration of the likely ill effects of the CDA on the development of online libraries. Not a pretty picture.
EFF analysis, June 16, 1995, of the version of the Exon "Communications Decency Act" passed by the Senate as part of S.652, the telecom "deregulation" bill.
Analysis of the Exon bill by the Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Democracy & Technology statement on passage of HR1555 (including the Cox/Wyden and Managers' Mark amendments)
Analysis of Exon bill from CDT and People for the American Way
CDT analysis of S 314
Commerical Internet eXchange (CIX) letter to the House regarding HR 1555 (the telecom reform bill), in particular supporting the Cox/Wyden anti-censorship amendment.
"Taking Cyberspace Seriously: Dealing with Obnoxious Messages on the Net", David Johnson. Excerpt: "Territorially-based laws fail us when we confront new phenomena involving participants whose geographical locations span legal jurisdictions and have little relationship to the locus of the harms they might inflict...we can reduce the intensity of the debate, and find some real solutions...if we take seriously the idea that cyberspace is a separate place...fully absorb the fact that most communications on the net amount to the joint creation of a new shared space allowing the assembly of like-minded individuals."
Letter from several computing societies (e.g. Computer Proffessionals for Social Responsibility) to Exon re his bill
short article on the 1929 German Reichstag law against "smut and trash" and it's similarity to US Senator J.J. Exon's "Communications Decency Act of 1995"
Letter from the DoJ to Sen. Leahy in answer to concerns he raised over the Exon bill (includes analysis of the DoJ response). Bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
draft report, "A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce" by Sr. White Policy Advisor Ira Magaziner, in which a more moderate view on encryption policy is offered, Internet Taxes are opposed, and Internet content censorship is to be avoided. It is obvious that not everyone within the US Administration agrees with Magaziner.
EFF press release regarding the important lawsuit filed Feb. 8, 1996 challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 Telecom Bill's "Communications Decency" amendment, and seeking an injunction against enforcement of this terrible new law until the case as a whole is decided.
Open letter to the Internet community from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, regarding compliance with the Communications "Decency" Act
EFF Alert regarding S314 and HR1004
original EMA alert regarding the Exon bill.
EMA's action alert regarding the House version of the Comm. Decency Act.
Analysis of S314 prepared by the Electronic Messaging Association. The analysis covers all aspects of the CDA's implementation and provides the standard arguments against it.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) op-ed piece lambasting the "Communications Decency" legislation (Jan. 5, 1996)
Cato Institute paper on the Exon "Communications Decency Act" and other attempts at censorship in the US, such as the "Comstock Law".
Text of the amendment Exon offered in 1994
official document from the US Federal Communications Commission on regulation of and enforcement against tv and radio broadcasting of obscenity and indecency.
Letter to leaders of Congressional committees with the power to successfully introduce Internet censorship legislation even worse that Exons, from the Christian Coalition, Ed Meese, Morality in Media, and other fundamentalist pro-censorship groups. Address Rep. Henry Hyde took the bait, introduced their suggested legislation, and it was his version of the Comm. Decency Act that passed into law, Feb. 1996.
Text of the Amendment as of 3/23/95
"Granularity and the Law of Cyberspace", article by David Johnson. Excerpt: 'With regard to intellectual property doctrine, the simultaneous bigness and smallness of intellectual artifacts in cyberspace causes serious problems. Should we consider each e-mail message a "work"? How can we use the "proportion taken" factor in a "fair use" analysis when we are dealing with the copying and forwarding of "whole" e-mail messages?...The same can be said about many other areas of law. The large numbers of small bits traversing a network make it nearly impossible for a sysop to review messages in advance -- and therefore requires us to rethink the application to sysops of traditional "publisher" liability for defamation...'
Todd Lappin's summary of what the "harmful to minors" statutory language really means, and how it related to "indecent", "obscene", and "obscene as to minors".
1995 proposed amendment to US Code Title 18, to add "the use of computers in or affecting commerce as a basis for Federal prosecution of certain obscenity offenses." Like other such bills, this piece of legislation serves no real purpose - it is already illegal to distribute obscenity in any medium, including via "the use of computers". This bill, intended as something of a competitor to the Communications Decency Act, also would have raised the penalty for obscenity distribution from 5 to 10 years in prison. Sponsor: Burton (Indiana). Status: Dead in the water.
Text of the House version of the Communications Decency Act
Excerpt from David Frost's interview with Gingrich in which Gingrich declares Exon's bill "probably" unconstitutional
the House version of the Telecom bill as introduced.
Introduced by Representative Hyde (R-IL). A bill to combat terrorism. Entitled the Comprehensive Antiterrorism Act of 1995. It lists new offenses, increased penalties, investigative tools, nuclear materials and immigration related policies. Was reffered to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Letter (and commentary) from the Interactive Working Group to Sens. Exon and Pressler regarding S. 314. The letter expresses concerns with S314's effects on both freedom of expression and the health of the communications industry.
Letter from House CDA sponsor Rep. Tim Johnson asking for hearings on the bill
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) statement (brief) from his home page, regarding his support of the Internet censorshiip protest, and his new bill to repeal the CDA (see also leahy_cda_repeal_020996.statement")
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) statement on his new bill to repeal the unconstitutional Communications "Decency" Act.
Sen. Leahy's statement in opposition to the CDA. Leahy believes that the CDA takes the wrong approach toward regualationa nd that it threatens the free speech and privacy rights of all internet users.
Letter from Sen. Leahy to IWG, asking them to explore alternatives to S. 314
Morality in Media statement regarding CDA. MiM opposes the CDA because of its implementation and effects on existing statutes, but supports the intent.
Rep. Nadler (D-NY) became the first member of Congress to turn his web page black to protest net censorship. This is a press release from Nadler about his protest of the Communications Decency Act.
EFF Statement on Proposals Regarding Content Control on the Net (Dec. 5, 95). EFF condemns unconstitutional censorship legislation.
Aug. 5 95 unanimous resolution of the National Writers Union to oppose Internet censorship legislation. Roundly condemns the Exon bill, the Counter Terrorism Bill (S735) and other censorship legislation, including S974 and S892.
Selection from Mike Godwin's forthcoming book, discussing the legal differences between "indecency" and "obscenity". Though the general public tends to use these terms interchangably, and the fundamentlist lobbying groups do so on purpose to sow confusion, they are very different legal regimes.
Richard F. O'Donnell writing for the Progress and Freedom Foundation, looks at the party politics behind the CDA - Democrats teamed up with the religious right to increase government authority, despite a hateful relationship between the two sides in other areas. May 3, 1996.
Richard F. O'Donnell writing for the Progress and Freedom Foundation: "Courting Irrelevance: The Digerati Needs to Learn How to Make Friends and Win Influence in Washington". A stinging, but constructive, criticism of online activism efforts to date. May 3, 1996.
_Maclean's_Magazine_ article by Joe Chidley, "Red-Light District....From S&M to Bestiality, Porn Flourishes on the Internet". An example of the sensationalist journalism that has catapulted "cyberporn" from a non-issue to the legal fight of the century. Unlike a lot of such pieces, this article does actually discuss free speech activism and some of the futility and flaws in the net censorship legislation being bandied about, but is full of hype and hysteria nonetheless.
"THE X-ON CONGRESS: INDECENT COMMENT ON AN INDECENT SUBJECT", editorial by Steve Russell, retired Texas trial judge and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas; published online by _American_Reporter_ as a challenge to the CDA.
_MicroTimes_ article by John S. Quarterman on the Comms. Decency Act and the numerous problems with it. Excellent introduction to the topic.
Bill to repeal the Communications Decency Act, introduced Feb. 9, by Sens. Leahy and Feingold.
Text of S. 314, the Communications Decency Act
AP article by Jeannine Aversa about the Clinton Administration's plan to offer an alternative to the CDA
Sen. Exon's letter to the Washington Post defending the CDA
Editorial from the Lincoln Journal-Star opposing the CDA (4/2/95)
Statement (dated 3/10/95) from Sen. Hutchison explaining that she will review the text of the CDA before forming an opinion
EFF policy paper on the original CDA
Alert from EFF, VTW, CDT and others re CDA (updated frequently)
Commentary, occasionally about CDA, from SoCoOnline, that is more about the legislation of morality than specifically about S314.
Transcript of a CNN debate between Sen. Exon and EPIC director Marc Rotenberg (2/13/95)
ACLU memo detailing problems with the revised Exon Admendment (5/24/95)
Text of S. 652, the "Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995", as introduced in the Senate.
the version of the Exon bill (this time co-sponsored by Sen. Coats) that passed the Senate. (What happened: Leahy amended the bill to circumvent Exon, then Exon & Coats amended Leahy's language out of the bill and put theirs back in. Your tax dollars at work.)
Commentary on S. 652 from the Alliance for Competitive Communications 3/22/95
ACLU alert explaining the implications of the CDA, the arguments used by its supporters, replies to these arguments, and suggested courses of action for concerned netizens (3/23/95)
ACLU alert urging people to write letters to their senators, includes a sample letter (3/28/95)
Statement of Sen. Breaux in support of S. 652 (3/9/95)
Report of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on S. 652
Rep. Henry Hyde's last minute amendment to the Communications Decency Act portion of the telecom bill. Makes it a crime to distribution abortion-related information online.
CDT report on the forthcoming amendment from Sen. Lott (R-Miss) which will strike the service provider defenses from the bill (6/6/95)
an explanation of the debate surrounding whether or not a provision of the S652 (and HR1555) Telecom Act actually does try to ban online information about abortion or not. (HTML version.)
an explanation of the debate surrounding whether or not a provision of the S652 (and HR1555) Telecom Act actually does try to ban online information about abortion or not. (Text version.)
full text of the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996, as passed and signed into law, Feb. 1996.
1996 joint conference committee draft Internet censorship language from the Telecom Bill (new and not yet introduced into either house of Congress for a vote, as of Jan. 5, 1996.)
excerpts from Clinton speech in Dallas, Texas, that are relevant to S.652 and S.314. (4/7/95)
Article from the Lincoln Journal-Star, by David Lynch, about the controversy surrounding the CDA (4/2/95)
Statement from Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass) expressing his opposition to the CDA (no date)
Transcript from an NPR program on the CDA, with an introduction from EPIC director Marc Rotenberg (5/5/95)
Text of S. 714, introduced by Sen. Leahy in direct opposition to the CDA
Sen. Leahy's introduction of S. 714
Article by Brock Meeks describing the Senates discussion about censoring the internet.
Introduced by Senator Robert Dole (R-KS). Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act of 1995. Requires Secretary of State to provide Speaker of House and Chairman of Senate Committee on Foreign Relations with list of products and technologies which could be used to promote or engage in terrorist activities, including "critical technologies." This version (the final, Senate-passed version) includes an amendment by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) to restrict "bomb-making" information on the Internet and other networks (see s735_95_feinstein_amend.draft for the original version of this amendment and s735_95_feinstein_amend_draft_eff.notes for an EFF analysis of it. The version included in S.735 as it passed was substantially less threatening to free speech.
S.735 as introduced (does not contain the Feinstein Internet censorship amendment.
Alert dealing with the Senate hearings that tried to determine if and how the Congress should limit speech on the internet dealing with bombs and other potentially dangerous information.
Statement made by President Clinton regarding the anti-terrorism bill and how he supports it.
Questions appropriate scope of government power regarding S. 735 and Antiterrrorism Amendments Act of 1995. Antiterr. Amend. Act extends electronic surveillance capabilities of FBI, particularly wiretap capabilities. Establishes Telecommunications Compliance Fund to permit Attorney General to pay telephone companies and other firms to design wiretap-ready technology.
Amendment to s735 intorduced by Senator Feinstein intended to stop people from teching how to create explosives with intent of criminal acts.
EFF summary of the Feinstein amendment and analysis of it.
Alert about the anti-terrorism bill, stating that it is overbroad and unecessary and why it is so.
Article regarding the Senate hearings on the anti-terrorism bill and analysis of what went on.
Jerry Berman (Center for Democracy & Technology) testimony from Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, July 24 95. Berman's excellent testimony summs up quickly but in detail the very substantial arguments against the ridiculous and unconsitutional Dole/Grassley net censorship bill (the "Protection of Children from Computer Pornography Act of 1995", S892).
Dole/Grassley "Protection of Children from Computer Pornography Act of 1995" - the worst US Internet censorship legislation to date. Thoroughly unconstitutional. Fortunately, it is not expected to pass.
New "child pornography" bill that would criminalize even *fake* child porn. Such a law in Canada has already lead to multiple ridiculous and injust convictions, and is expected to lead to broad censorship of even classic literature from libraries (e.g. Nabokov's _Lolita_).
Sen. Hatch's introduction to S1237.
New version of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Net censorship legislation, going after "bomb-making" info on the Internet. Based on her amendment to the 1995 Senate anti-terrorism bill, this one is an amendment to the 1996 Defense Authorization bill. Passed the Senate, late July, 1996.
Press release of impending legislation by Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-CO) to repeal the ban on abortion discussion by the Comstock act (over 100 yrs old), and the CDA.
_New_York_Times_ op-ed piece by EFF's Shari Steele, on CoS's legal assault against online critics & sysops, and Congress' attack against online free speech.
Letter from Prof. Jim Thomas to the president of Northern Illinois University following the signing of the Telecommunications Act, urging him to refrain from over-reaction, and to preserve online free speech at NIU. This could easily be an ideal model letter to other school administrations who begin clamping down on student speech in the wake of the CDA, or who seem confused as to which way to go.
US Code (federal law) Title 18, Part I, Chapter 110: "Sexual Exploitation and other abuse of children" (the child porn statutes.)
Rep. (now Sen.) Ron Wyden's campaign statement opposing the CDA (Jan., 1996)

Subdirectories in This Archive

The 2000 bills include all the riders on various drug and bankruptcy bills which try to restrict internet speech through the backdoor.
Includes the FTC rules on protecting children's privacy and the Methridrine anti-proliferation bill whic would have made it illegal to talk about drugs use,paraphernalia etc. on the net.
Also known as the McCain & Coates bills. This subdirectory includes bothe the bills and EFF and other analysis.

Related On-Site Resources

McCain Coates bills directory of information on 1998 Internet
censorship legislation in the US, including Sen. Dan Coats's "CDA 2", and Sen. John McCain's "Internet School Filtering Act"
Ratings, filters and labeling link to directory of info on Net filtering,
content labelling, and ratings schemes (as discussed or recommended by several bills and position statements related to Internet censorship legislation.
link to directory of info on an important lawsuit filed Feb. 8, 1996 challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 Telecom Bill's "Communications Decency" amendment.
Full text of the ACLU v. Reno (and ALA v. DoJ) case decision,
upholding free speech in cyberspace (HTML edition by Bob Bickford.)
EFF "American Reporter v. Dept. of Justice (Shea v. Reno)" Archive
EFF "CRLP v. Dept. of Justice (Sanger v. Reno)" Archive

Links to Related Off-Site Resources

June 12 1996 CDA court ruling
Fully HTMLized version. (Provided by Michael Hanson)
Another fully HTMLized version of the ruling
(Provided by Jim Robinson)
EPIC's archive
on legal challenges to the CDA
The Congressional Internet Caucus
A new group of US legislators trying to protect the Internet.
Censorship, Freedom of Speech, and Child Safety Index
HotWired Special Report
on the Internet censorship battle (Dec. 12)
Steve Rhodes' Exon Page
Parody filtering software, replaces "profane" words with funny alternatives (e.g. the names of those who voted for the Communications Decency Act).
Harry Erwin's page of selections from technical literature
that would be illegal under the Comm. Decency Act. Erwin's position, probably correct, is that the CDA is a direct threat to academic and intellectual freedom and to education.
Newshare's Internet censorship opposition site.
Newshare, American Reporter, a judge and a law firm are gearing up to challenge in court any Net censorship legislation that passes.