Court hears challenge today of new Internet censorship law

Thursday, November 19, 1998


Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Justice Department were to face off today in a federal court in Philadelphia over the Child Online Protection Act, Congress’ second foray into regulating online speech.


The ACLU has asked the court to grant a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the government from prosecuting anyone under the law — scheduled to go into effect tomorrow — until the lawsuit is decided.


In American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, the ACLU and 16 other plaintiffs contend the law violates First Amendment free-speech rights. The plaintiffs in the case, often called ACLU v. Reno 2, represent a broad range of individuals and organizations that use the Web to provide a variety of free information on different subjects.


Meanwhile in a lighter vein, a dozen adult film stars today held “Un-Strip for Freedom 98″ to protest the new law. They also claim the law unfairly restricts online speech and expression rights.


COPA, which was signed into law on Oct. 21, criminalizes commercial communication on the World Wide Web that is harmful to minors. The act provides a defense for Internet content providers that segregate adult users from minors through some sort of Internet verification system.


The ACLU contends the law suffers the same “constitutional flaws” as the Internet indecency provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, or CDA. In June 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down two provisions of the CDA that criminalized indecent and patently offensive online communications.


The high court determined in Reno v. ACLU that the government’s interest in protecting children from inappropriate material on the Internet “does not justify an unnecessarily broad suppression of speech addressed to adults.”


In their motion for a temporary restraining order, the ACLU writes: “Though the COPA, like the CDA, purports to restrict the availability of materials to minors, the effect of the law is to restrict adults from communicating and receiving expression that is clearly protected by the First Amendment.”


A Philadelphia courtroom is not the only place where people are expressing themselves on the new federal Internet censorship law. A group of 12 women adult film stars, led by Danni Ashe will put their clothes on to protest the new law. With “Un-Strip for Freedom 98″ (http://www.danni.com/danni/unstrip/index.html), the women say they want to demonstrate the disrobing of rights caused by COPA.


“‘Un-Strip for Freedom 98′ symbolizes the backwards notion of COPA and the unwinding of hard-fought freedoms for sexual expression,” Ashe said in a press release. “Rather than stripping off the repression, inhibition and fears of earlier generations, Congress is telling us to put that baggage back on.”


Related


  • Hearing set for temporary restraining order in case challenging CDA 2 11.11.98
  • Civil libertarians urge government to refrain from enforcing new Internet law 11.6.98
  • Clinton signs CDA 2 into law; cyber-liberty groups respond with lawsuit 10.22.98