FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, March 19, 1997
For information, contact:
Jerry Berman or Daniel Weitzner, 202-637-9800
Center for Democracy and Technology
Supreme Court Justices question effectiveness of Communications
Decency Act and seek alternatives
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today the United States Supreme Court heard
oral arguments in the First Amendment challenge to the Communications
Decency Act (CDA), a law passed by Congress in 1996. Challengers
who are members of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition
-- a broad coalition of Internet users, publishers and service
providers -- say the statute would ban speech protected by the
First Amendment and subject Internet users to far greater restrictions
than exist in any other medium.
Bruce J. Ennis, lead attorney for the coalition who argued the
case today said that he felt that the case got a thorough and
thoughtful hearing from the Court. "The Court seems to understand
that the Internet is a unique medium and cannot be subject to
the restrictions on speech which apply in mass media such as radio
and television," Ennis said after the argument was completed.
Judith Krug of the American Library Association, lead plaintiff
in the case, noted that the Justices "paid special attention
to the threat that the CDA would pose to libraries around the
country seeking to use the Internet to provide greater public
access to information."
In questions to both Mr. Ennis and the Justice Department attorney
defending the statute, the Justices probed the effectiveness of
this statute as compared to software tools which empower parents
to filter out inappropriate Internet sites whenever their children
surf the web.
"If the goal is to protect children, then parental empowerment
technology together with education provides the means. This law
would only lull parents into a false sense of security, into feeling
that children were protected when they are not. We know that at
least 40% of the content that may be inappropriate for children
is outside the US, and beyond the reach of US law," said
Bill Burrington, Assistant General Counsel of America Online,
a plaintiff in the case and co-organizer of the CIEC coalition.
With a decision expected in late spring or early summer, coalition
members expect that the issue will be back before the US Congress
shortly. Jerry Berman, Executive Director of the Center for Democracy
and Technology and coordinator of the Citizen's Internet Empowerment
Coalition said after the argument that, "the Court focused
on the critical question of how to protect children effectively
on the global Internet while extending full First Amendment protection
of the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the Internet
today. Congress failed to reconcile these important goals when
in passed this law."
Last June, a three-judge federal panel in Philadelphia unanimously
held key sections of the CDA to be unconstitutional. The government
appealed the decision last fall.
Appellees in the case include 27 plaintiffs organized as the Citizens
Internet Empowerment Coalition and led by the American Library
Association, plus 19 other plaintiffs in an ACLU suit. The two
groups of plaintiffs were consolidated by the lower court for
Among the plaintiffs are representatives of libraries, book and
magazine publishers, public interest groups, newspapers, record
and motion picture producers, journalists and advertisers, and
the on-line industry. All these groups fear that on-line posting
of legitimate material --from information on breast cancer to
nude drawings from the Louvre Museum -- could make them subject
to prosecution and jail time.
Plaintiffs in the case include: American Library Association,
Inc.; America Online, Inc.; American Booksellers Association,
Inc.; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; American
Society of Newspaper Editors; Apple Computer, Inc.; Association
of American Publishers, Inc.; Association of Publishers, Editors
and Writers; Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition; Commercial
Internet eXchange; CompuServe Incorporated.; Families Against
Internet Censorship; Freedom to Read Foundation, Inc.; Health
Sciences Libraries Consortium; HotWired Ventures LLC; Interactive
Digital Software Association; Interactive Services Association;
Magazine Publishers of America, Inc.; Microsoft Corporation; Microsoft
Network; National Press Photographers Association; NETCOM On-Line
Communication Services, Inc.; Newspaper Association of America;
Opnet, Inc.; Prodigy Services Company; Wired Ventures, Ltd.; and,
the Society of Professional Journalists Ltd.
Among those filing amicus briefs with the High Court are The U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, the American Association of University Professors,
the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National
Association of Broadcasters, ABC Inc., CBS Inc. and NBC.
All legal documents related to the CIEC case can be found at http://www.ciec.org/.