"Court Venture Into Cyberspace"

(This article is Copyright 1997 by the Associated Press. I am showing it here for reference use only--as I have the right to do under the fair use clause of US Copyright law--so that you can see the primary source for my proposed op-ed. Please don't make things complicated for me by using this article in some unauthorized way --whatever that may be.)

March 19, 1997

Court Venture Into Cyberspace

Filed at 2:45 a.m. EST

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Taking a first look at free speech on the Internet, the Supreme Court is considering whether Congress can make it a crime to put indecent words or pictures online where children can find them.

Parents who want to keep sexually explicit material away from their kids might be scared away from the Internet without the restrictions, the Clinton administration says in asking the high court to uphold the Communications Decency Act.

But those who challenged the 1996 law say it violates adults' free-speech right to send and receive material that is sexually oriented -- but not obscene -- on the global computer network.

``The law bans a vast range of speech, all of which is constitutionally protected for adults,'' says Bruce J. Ennis, the lawyer arguing the case for challengers including the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A three-judge federal court in Philadelphia blocked the law from taking effect last year, saying it would unlawfully chill adults' right to sexually oriented material.

The case is the first venture into cyberspace law by the Supreme Court, which still presents quill pens to lawyers who argue before it and bans cameras and tape-recorders from the stately courtroom. A decision is expected by July.

In court papers, the Justice Department said Congress ``sought to make the Internet a resource that all Americans could use without fear that their children would be exposed to the harmful effects of indecent material.''

The Internet was described by a lower-court judge as a ``never-ending worldwide conversation'' that has produced ``a kind of chaos.''

The network is thought to connect as many as 40 million people using more than 9.4 million computers worldwide.

The law makes it a crime to make ``indecent'' or ``patently offensive'' words of pictures available online where they can be found by children. Violators could get up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Sexually explicit material is protected by the Constitution's First Amendment if it is deemed indecent but not obscene.

The law would not affect indecent material sent from computers outside the United States.

Indecent material could be provided by restricting access to people using a credit card or adult-access code. But those who challenged the law said that would be too expensive, particularly for nonprofit organizations.

The challengers said the law would restrict access not only to sexually explicit pictures, but to discussion of issues including safe sex, homosexuality or prison rape.

The groups that sued include America Online, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apple Computer and the AIDS Education Global Information System.

The case is Reno vs. American Civil Liberties Union, 96-511.

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