[Net Censorship Crisis]
The date 1 February 1996 will be remembered as "Black
Thursday" on the Internet.
Ignoring howls of protest from civil liberties advocates,
business groups, and thousands of concerned netizens,
Congress on Thursday passed a sweeping telecommunications
reform bill that includes Internet censorship provisions
that flagrantly violate the First Amendment.
In the end, the vote wasn't even close. The House passed the
bill 414-16, while the vote in the Senate was 91-5 -
lopsided tallies that demonstrate how little stock Congress
places in the Constitution and your basic free-speech
rights. The bill now awaits signing by President Clinton,
who is expected to give it his approval in the next week.
Under the terms of the legislation, anyone who transmits,
posts, or distributes "indecent" material on the World Wide
Web, ftp sites, or Usenet newsgroups may be punished with a
US$250,000 fine and a prison term of up to two years. Even
worse, the only way online service providers can avoid
prosecution is by censoring public and private messages to
ensure that they do not contain "indecent" material. The
bottom line: America Online, CompuServe, Netcom, and
hundreds of local ISPs will soon be deputized as agents of
Don't be fooled by the hype about "deregulation," "free
choice," and "parental empowerment." This legislation
establishes a big-government censorship regime that will
criminalize free speech on the Internet, effectively
restricting expression to that which is appropriate for
As Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil
Liberties Union, has noted, "This law restructures the
entire telecommunications industry and places the free
speech and privacy rights of all Internet users in permanent
jeopardy. For a Congress that says it wants to get big
government out of people's lives, this law represents the
most extreme hypocrisy."
We couldn't agree more.
So what's next? A coalition of civil liberties groups
spearheaded by the ACLU has vowed to challenge the
constitutionality of the "indecency" restrictions as soon as
President Clinton signs the bill into law. Although the ACLU
expects a difficult fight, legal precedent gives cause for
optimism. Congress may not mind stomping on the
Constitution, but perhaps the black-robed justices of the
Supreme Court will pay close attention to the original
instructions of the Founding Fathers: "Congress shall make
no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
See you in court, dear legislators.
by Todd Lappin
Join the Blue Ribbon Anti-Censorship Campaign!
[Cyber Rights Under Attack!]
Fuck, Piss, Shit, etc.
Louis Rossetto responds to the Net Censorship Crisis
From DC to Your PC
The history of the congressional attack on online free
Ramming a Hot Poker up the Internet's Ass
Brock N. Meeks jacks in from the "Sticking It to the Net"
The Net Talks Back to Washington
Online resources for further study of the Communications
All Opposed Say "Nay"
What you can do to make your voice heard
Geeks Take to the Streets
San Francisco netizens took to the streets to defend free
speech on Thursday, 14 December 1995. Read the exclusive
HotWired's Electronic Frontiers Forum
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