In a tremendous victory for Free Speech, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled unanimously against the Communications Decency Act.
Justice Paul Stevens proclaimed that there's "no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to this medium." He found the CDA unconstitutional, due to the "obvious chilling effect" of the CDA's broad restrictions on Internet freedom and ridiculous criminal penalties that go with it. Stevens also said, "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."
If you're not familiar with the CDA, a vile section of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 signed into law by president Clinton last year, you must have just purchased your very first computer. However, thanks to the slanted media coverage the CDA has received, you may not be familiar with how dire a threat the CDA could have been to not only users of the Internet, but also to ordinary non-computer using citizens. The unenforceable penalties one could have received for posting "indecent" material ANYWHERE on the internet, e.g.: in newsgroups, web pages, or even PRIVATE email messages, would have been stiff fines and even jail time! (For extended information and a full text of the Communications Decency Act please see http://www.ciec.org,
the home of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC).
However, the threat to a telecommunicatator's freedom has not completely diminished. Immediately upon hearing the decision of the highest court in the land, The Family Research Council vowed to pressure congress for creation of a NEW Internet decency law. And Senator Dan Coats, R-Ind., who helped author the CDA is already in the planning for a similar CDA replacement.
"The court is telling parents to abandon any hope of a decent public culture, and simply to barricade their children behind the walls of SurfWatch," Coats said in a statement. "It is telling families to fend for themselves in an Internet universe of raw indecency."
The White House has surprisingly fully accepted the court's decision and has even held a press conference touting the user friendly "indecency"-blocking technology that parents, and not the government, can use to keep their children protected from the alleged threat of porn on the net; an option brought forth many months ago by Free Speech advocates as such a solution everyone can be happy with. "The Internet is an incredibly powerful medium for freedom of speech and freedom of expression that should be protected," the president said, leaving all of us at ROC wondering why that sentiment was not present when he signed the bill into law. "But there is material on the Internet that is clearly inappropriate for children...we must give parents and teachers the tools they need to make the Internet safe for children." Please let it be noted that "obscenity" (whatever THAT is) was already illegal to transmit by ANY means, Internet or otherwise.
But, behind the shadows of the CDA media hubbub, lurks the threat of IMPOSED "key recovery" featured encryption programs. These "key recovery" features, installed BY LAW into the programs controlling your telephone, computer, fax machine (and who knows, perhaps even our toasters!) or any other electronic communication device, would allow law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, CIA and the NSA (National Security Administration) unrestricted access to whatever may be contained in said devices; all in the name of national security, of course. If you wish to protect your business transactions, personal messages or anything else you consider personal and private, you'll be required to used the government designed encryption method mentioned above. Then your information will not be protected from the FBI, CIA or NSA (or anyone else sophisticated enough to break the code; even the same terrorists the government believes are a threat.
Luckily there is a bill making its way through the House, named the "Security and Freedom Through Encryption Act" or SAFE (HR 695) that would prohibit the government from imposing "key recovery" encryption in the United States or abroad and let Americans decide what privacy protection technology they wish to use!
Rock Out Censorship encourages Internet users to enjoy the electronic freedom the Supreme Court has upheld, but also to be aware that that freedom may not last forever, if those like Senator Coats have their way. We at R.O.C. urge you to continue to let your opinion about freedom on the Internet and encryption technology be heard by your local Congressman. Please check out our Activism Central section for information and references on how to contact your Senator or Representative.