Judge Halts Enforcement of Child Online Protection Act (Son of CDA)

by Todd Wiese toddw@theroc.org

Much to the delight of anti-censorship groups and Internet users everywhere, on November 19, Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. in Philadelphia extended a Temporary Restraining Order halting the enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act until its constitutionality can be established in court. This offspring of the infamous failed Communications Decency Act, is aimed, the government contends, only at those who "knowingly" communicate material for "commercial purposes" that is "harmful to minors". Should you be caught transmitting such material that the GOVERNMENT deems harmful, you could face fines of up to $50,000 a day and up to six months in prison! What the writers of this law fail to recognize (or choose to ignore) is that there are literally thousands of groups, businesses and individuals who choose to display information on their websites that are intended for adults only AND who use the Internet for commercial purposes AND whose activities are fully protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Do you think the federal government has the time or the scruples, for that matter, to distinguish between the constitutionally protected material and truly obscene material, between commercial material and non-commercial material? And let's not forget how dangerous it is to let someone else, like the Federal Government, decide what is or is not "harmful matter". From our experience, we would expect the government to enforce such a law by going after everyone they want to systematically silence, and leave it to court challenges for individuals to get their cases thrown out on constitutional grounds or by any of the provisions of the law. That way they can harrass as many groups or individuals they like that are producing material the government deems "harmful to minors", even if it is constitutionally protected. Ann Beeson, ACLU National Staff Attorney said it best when describing testimony from one of the plaintiffs: "Our clients, David Talbot, CEO of Salon Magazine and Norman Laurila, President of A Different Light Bookstores, provided compelling testimony that if this law were not enjoined, they might be forced to shut down their websites altogether. That may not have been the intent of the law, but it certainly is the outcome."

Writers of the law foolishly claim that the bill is "narrowly tailored" to protect minors. Well, we've heard THAT before. But what they overlook is that this law has the same defects that struck down the original CDA in the first place. "The First Amendment still stands. A law that the Justice Department found unconstitutional last week did not suddenly become constitutional this week," commented Barry Steinhardt, Electronic Frontier Foundation's President when ACLU vs. Reno 2 first went to trial. "It is our fervent hope that Attorney General Reno will concede that the new law is unconstitutional so we can avoid prolonged litigation." We at Rock Out Censorship hope so too.

So for now, the "Son of CDA" is grounded. But, don't exhale yet. The TEMPORARY Restraining Order runs out on Feb 1, 1999. There are then more hearings scheduled for a preliminary injunction Wednesday, January 20, 1999. So, NOW is the time to contact your Congressperson and demand that the Online Child Protection Act receives the same treatment that the ORIGINAL Internet Censorship Bill got: THROW IT OUT!

Please see our Activism Central section to find out how to contact your local Representative or Senator.

The authors of the bill need to hear the voice of the people! Tell, them that trying to sneak yet another Internet censorship law behind our backs while the country is distracted by Clinton's own "harmful matter" is dishonest, foul, and down-right lame!

Representative Michael Oxley (R-OH)
2233 Rayburn House Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C.20515
PH: 202-225-2676

For text and more info about HR 3783 go here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d105:HR03783:

For a "family" history on Internet Censorship, please see our Incident Update section at http://www.theroc.org/updates/cda-dies.htm

There are many online organizations fighting this bill as we are and who also provide constant updates, please contact them and show your support.

The American Civil Liberties Union
125 Braod St. 18th fl.
New York, NY 10004
PH: 212-549-2500
FAX: 212-549-2646

Electronic Frontier Foundation
1550 Bryant St. Suite 725
San Francisco, CA 94103-4832
PH: 415-436-9333
FAX: 415-436-9993

Electronic Privacy Information Center
666 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E. Suite 301
Washington, D.C. 20003
PH: 202-544-9240
FAX: 202-547-5482

Internet Content Coalition
(no address found)
PH: 610-692-0025

Why not contact Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. and compliment him on his judgment?

The Honorable Lowell A. Reed Jr.
U.S. District Court
Eastern District of Pennsylvania
U.S. Court House
601 Market St. Room #11614
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1705

Clerk Of Courts Office:
PH: 215-597-7704
FAX: 215-597-0303

Information for this article was provided by The American Civil Liberties Union:


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