Press Release from Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 26, 1997
CONTACT: Mary Bottari
FEINGOLD APPLAUDS SUPREME COURT DECISION STRIKING DOWN UNCONSTITUTIONAL INTERNET CENSORSHIP LAW
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Russ Feingold applauded the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the Communications Decency Act (CDA) which bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet.
"I am delighted that the Supreme Court recognized what I and other opponents of the CDA have contended for two years -- that the Communications Decency Act was an unconstitutional restriction on the speech of adults who use the Internet. This is a victory not only for Internet users, but all who value our rights to free expression in the United States," Feingold said.
The Supreme Court found that the CDA is unconstitutional because it is a content based restriction on speech using an ill-defined and vague indecency standard that "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community" while failing to protect children on the Internet.
The Court stated, "The CDA's vagueness undermines the likelihood that it has been carefully tailored to the congressional goal of protecting minors from potentially harmful materials. In order to deny minors access to potentially harmful speech, the CDA effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to send and receive." The court concluded that, "As a matter of constitutional tradition...we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship."
The Supreme Court's decision upholds a unanimous 1996 lower court decision which found the CDA unconstitutional on its face. The Communications Decency Act, enacted as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, prohibits the transmission on the Internet of indecent speech to a minor and prohibits the display of indecent material on the Internet in a manner available to minors. The CDA was immediately challenged in Federal Court following its enactment.
In 1995, when the CDA was first debated in the Senate, Feingold opposed the legislation because it imposed unconstitutional restrictions on speech. He argued that due to the unique nature of the Internet, the prohibitions on indecent speech that have been applied to other media, effectively censor the speech of all adults who use the Internet. Feingold also argued that less restrictive alternatives, such as screening software, were available to protect children from inappropriate materials on the Internet.
"I am gratified that the Supreme Court, and the lower court before it,
correctly recognized what I have long contended -- that Congress failed in
its efforts to protect children on the Internet while simultaneously
trampling on the rights of all Americans to free speech," Feingold said.
Feingold cosponsored a bill to repeal the CDA and has vowed to work towards
more effective solutions to protect children on the Net. Feingold has
introduced legislation, S. 900, to increase criminal penalties for
individuals who use computers and the Internet to commit crimes of sexual
abuse and exploitation against children.