Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition

Wednesday, March 19, 1997

For information, contact:
Jerry Berman or Daniel Weitzner, 202-637-9800
Center for Democracy and Technology

Bruce Ennis and Coalition Leaders Encouraged by Supreme Court
Oral Arguments in First Amendment Challenge

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 trial.

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

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