The Internut Speaks ... On an occasional burst of sanity

 
The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition
 
                                            June 12, 1996
 
         Judges Block Law Barring
         'Indecency' on the Internet
 
         First Amendment Rights Apply
         In Cyberspace, Panel Decides
 
         Associated Press
 
         PHILADELPHIA -- Federal judges prohibited the
         government from enforcing any aspect of a new
         law outlawing "indecent" material on the
         Internet, saying that the computer network
         deserves the highest protection from government
         intrusion.
 
         In trying to make sense of the free-for-all
         world of the Internet, a unique three-judge
         panel granted a preliminary injunction against
         the Communications Decency Act Wednesday
         morning while two lawsuits wind through the
         court system.
 
         The decision, the first major step in creating
         federal law for the world-wide computer
         network, was anxiously awaited by the
         government and the 57 groups challenging the
         act. The government has promised to appeal,
         taking the case directly to the U.S. Supreme
         Court for review.
 
         The act, enacted Feb. 8 as part of a behemoth
         overhaul of telecommunications legislation,
         makes displaying "indecent" or "patently
         offensive" words or images on the Internet
         punishable by $250,000 fines and a two-year
         prison sentence if they are accessible to
         minors.
 
         With child pornography already illegal, the law
         was designed to keep nude pictures of adults
         off screens available to children.
 
         Opponents say the law is an unconstitutional
         ban on free speech in cyberspace and call it
         too vague and too broad. The Justice
         Department, on the other hand, says the statute
         is easy to comply with and necessary to protect
         minors from pornography.
 
         A key issue addressed by the judges was whether
         to extend the First Amendment rights enjoyed by
         the print media to the Internet. The judges
         granted "at least as much protection" as print.
 
         "As the most participatory form of mass speech
         yet developed, the Internet deserves the
         highest protection from governmental
         intrusion," the judges wrote.
 
         "Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos,
         so the strength of our liberty depends upon the
         chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech
         the First Amendment protects."
 
            Copyright  1996 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights
                                 Reserved.

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