SENATE COMMITTEE BACKS CYBER CENSORSHIP AND IMPOSES CRIMINAL PENALTIES --A CYBER LIBERTIES ALERT FROM THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION--

Legislation has been introduced before the Senate which would severely restrict your freedom of speech, halt the free flow of information on the Internet, and require all telecommunications carriers to censor your public and private communications.

The "Communications Decency Act of 1995" (S-314). introduced in early February by Senators Exon (D-NE) and Gorton (R-WA), would place substantial criminal liability on telecommunications carriers (including traditional telephone networks, Internet service providers, commercial online services such as America Online, Compuserve, and independent BBS's) whenever their networks are used to transmit any material which is deemed indecent or harassing. In order to avoid these penalties, carriers would be forced to restrict the activities of their subscribers and censor all public and private communications.

We must act quickly to stop the progress of S-314. The bill may soon be incorporated into Senate telecommunications reform legislation,which is currently being drafted by the Senate Commerce Committee. The telecommunications reform bill may be introduced as early as mid March, and is expected to be considered on a fast track. If S-314 is included in this bill, it will be extremely difficult to change or remove and it could pass quickly.


WHAT JUST HAPPENED

On March 23, the Senate Commerce Committee adopted a modified version of the Exon bill, the so-called "Communications Decency Act" (originally introduced as HB -314). Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), who had cosponsored HB-314 with Senator James Exon (D-NE), proposed the amendment in Exon's absence. It was adopted on a voice vote as an amendment to the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995.

The amendment would subject on-line users to scrutiny and criminal penalties if their messages were deemed to be indecent, lewd, lascivious or filthy--all communications that are protected by the Free Speech Guarantees of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Although protecting children from pornography is its most often cited rationale, this is really a "bait and switch" with your rights at stake. Note the amendment in fact goes way beyond child pornography. It's like the opponents of TV violence who first said children should be protected and then made "Murder She Wrote" with Angela Lansbury their number one target. Or like the censors who banned "Huckleberry Finn", "Where's Waldo?" and even Webster's Dictionary (it has "bad" words in it, after all.) The Exon/Gorton amendment would invite active interference in the basic speech of everyone using any telecommunication device--simply because some government bureaucrat somewhere thought the speech was indecent or lascivious.

All Senators on the Committee had been informed that the Exon/Gorton amendment would violate the Constitution, assault the liberties of net users, stifle development of new technologies (many of which offer greater choice and control by all users--including parents), and spawn expensive litigation--while not succeeding at reducing access by children to pornography. A coalition of civil liberties organizations--including the ACLU - and numerous commercial companies warned against adopting the Exon/Gorton amendment, which originally would also have made all on-line service providers (in fact, anyone transmitting an offensive message) criminally liable.

Some commercial companies offered Exon and Gorton language exempting themselves from liability while still letting, their subscribers be prosecuted. On March 23, Senator Gorton said that the amendment had been modified to exempt those merely "transmitting" the message. The amendment however, still covers anyone who originates a message deemed indecent, lascivious, etc.


WHAT YOU CAN DO

1. Contact the Senators from your state, and all Senators on the Commerce Committee expressing your disappointment with the March 23rd action. Thank Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-SD) for not including the Exon/Gorton amendment in his proposed bill, and urge him to support action on the Senate floor to remove the anti-cyber amendment.

2. Contact your online service providers and ask them what they have been doing about this Exon/Gorton assault on your liberties. Some providers are still standing up for your rights; others may not have. Urge them not to support any legislation that protects them, but violates your free speech rights. Urge them to oppose the modified Exon/Gorton amendment.

3. Contact all the other Senators and urge them to support deletion of the Exon/Gorton amendment when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

4. Stay tuned for further information and action items for both the House and Senate.

SEND YOUR LETTER BY E-MAIL, FAX, OR SNAIL MAIL TO:

Senator Larry Pressler, S.D.
Chairman, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
SR-254 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington DC 20510-6125
PH: 202-224-5842
FAX: 202-224-1259 (commerce com.)
E-mail: larry_pressler.senate.gov
To maximize the impact of your letter, you should also write to the members of the Senate Commerce Committee and to your own Senators.

(This information was provided in a CYBER LIBERTIES ALERT sent out by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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