Reprinted from www.libertylobby.org, home of The SPOTLIGHT archive
Decency Act Struck Down
Last year at about this time, I wrote about the federal government's attempt to impose censorship on the Internet by means of legislation known as the "communications decency Act," also known as CDA (SPOTLIGHT, July 8, 1996, or www.logoplex.com/tip/tip960708.html).
The feds tried to sell this violation of our freedoms under the guise of "protecting the children" from all the bad material which can be found on the Internet.
Had this ridiculous piece of legislation been attempted with printed media, the legislators proposing same would have been soundly laughed out of office.
But, because of the nature of the medium, enough of our so-called representatives go together to pass this insult to the freedoms guaranteed to us under the Constitution.
In 1996, a case was brought by the ACLU, as primary plaintiff, along with a long list of diverse individuals and groups advocating freedom of speech on the Internet. As a result, a federal court in Philadelphia declared the CDA unconstitutional.
Now comes news that on June 26, the Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the lower courts which strikes the portions of the CDA which seek to regulate content of material on the Internet:
"As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship."
In effect, the court is saying what should be evident to anyone familiar with the tradition of rights and responsibilities in a free society: That it is our right to express our ideas, and we are the ones who are responsible for determining what is appropriate for ourselves and our children.
Thus, we see that the administration spewing the mantra "protect the children" is not a magic incantation which lets them do anything they want.
In this instance, the reason they didn't get away with their attempt to control the Internet probably has as much to do with the number and diversity of the opposition as it does with the blatant unconstitutionality of the law. Those who have watched the court's contortions of the Constitution to justify gun grabs from decent Americans know this full well.
The lesson from this seems obvious: Get involved and be an activist. Recent IP columns can give you a start on how to get your feet wet with Internet activism. Keep in contact with you representatives at all levels, via e-mail and in person. Perhaps that will discourage them from inventing a "problem" to "fix" and thereby destroy your rights in the process.
FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
Government should not be the only target of your activism. Most major companies, the ones who sponsor the shows you watch on television -- both good and offensive -- have an Internet presence. Use this avenue of access to let them know what you think of their sponsorship activities. Use the resources we've shown you to find out who sponsors what.
Will the federal government give up on attempting to regulate Internet content? Of course not. The fight is already brewing in regard to public key cryptography and the government's proposed key escrow plan. This is another battle pitting the Clinton administration against those who are attempting to preserve the average American's right of privacy while using Internet resources.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation was instrumental in helping defeat the CDA. Readers should visit their Internet site at: www.eff.org/
This organization is at the forefront of the battle to "ensure that the principles embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights are protected as new communications technologies emerge." This is a most important group to visit on line.
The web address of the American Family Association is www.afa.net/
The site is growing, and there is still time to get in on the Disney boycott, so check them out.