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Laws Restricting Internet Content

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bullet"When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church - and there was nobody left to be concerned." Martin Niemöller. Quoted in the Congressional Record, 14, October 1968, Page 31,636.

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Overview

The Internet represents a problem for those who want to regulate free speech. Anybody anywhere in the world can put any material on the Internet at any time; it can then be read by anyone else in the world. Since the Internet has no way of determining the age of the person who is accessing a web page, there is no way to effectively prevent all minors from gaining access to material that is inappropriate for them to view. Some companies produce censorship software to which a family can subscribe. But this is not completely effective. In addition, some software developed by conservative organizations bans a wide range of religious, philosophical, and social material in the name of preventing access to pornography.

President Clinton signed into law the 1996 Telecommunications Bill on 1996-FEB-8. This law contained two amendments which are related to freedom of speech on the Internet.

bulletAn amendment to Section 223 of Title 47 of the United States Code.
bulletAn amendment to the Comstock Act.

Both restrict what may appear on the Internet. The US Supreme Court, in a rare 1997 unanimous decision, declared these amendments to be unconstitutional (Reno v. ACLU; 96-511). The court sided with the American Library Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and AIDS Education Global Information, and others who argued that it was unconstitutional to remove from the Internet all material that might be harmful to minors.

A second, more narrowly focused House bill was sponsored by Michael Oxley (R- OH) and signed into law on 1998-OCT. It is the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). It became law as part of the federal budget. It has faced a court challenge by a broad group, ranging from obstetricians to booksellers. It was declared unconstitutional.

Still another attempt by the federal government, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was also declared unconstitutional. State bills have followed, but are also being declared unconstitutional.

In 2002, President Bush signed the  "Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002" It creates a special Internet domain with website names like http://www.aaaaaa.kids.us Websites in this domain are heavily regulated for content so that nothing unsuitable for children 12 years of age or younger will appear. This has not been challenged in the court. But it has proven to be a failure. Very few websites have appeared in this domain.

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Topics in this section:

bulletFederal government laws 1996 to 1997:
bulletThe "Communications Decency Amendment" (CDA);
bulletThe Comstock Act;
bulletCourt challenge to the CDA;
bulletReactions to the U.S. Supreme Court CDA decision.
 
bulletFederal and state laws 1998 to 2002:
bulletThe Child On line Protection Act (COPA);;
bulletChildren's Internet Protection Act (CIPA);
bulletNew Mexico state law;
bulletPotential danger from Internet censorship software.
 
bulletThe Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002

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Copyright © 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-JUN-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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