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Background on the Lawsuit

Internet Users, Publishers, Online Service Providers, Non-Profit Groups, and Civil Liberties Advocates Fight The CDA in Court

CDA is Unconstitutional, Fails to Recognize Unique Nature of the Internet

A coalition representing a broad spectrum of Internet users, librarians, publishers, content providers and access providers filed a lawsuit on Monday, February 26, 1996 in a Federal Court in Philadelphia, PA seeking to overturn the Communications Decency Act. The challenge argued that the Internet is a unique communications technology which deserves First Amendment protections at least as broad as those enjoyed as by the print medium.

The group, known as the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC - pronounced "seek") is coordinated by the Center for Democracy and Technology, America Online, and the American Library Association, and others, including People for the American Way. Its 35 members include libraries, book publishers, newspaper publishers, editors, advertisers, commercial online service providers, ISP's, non-profit groups, and civil liberties advocates.

The Complaint

In a 73-page complaint that detailed the history of the Internet and outlines how the network operates, the CIEC intended to educate the court on how the Internet functions and why the broad content regulations imposed by the CDA threaten the very existence of the Internet as a viable medium for free expression, education, and commerce. Among other things, the CIEC challenge argued that:

  • The Internet is a unique communications medium which deserves First Amendment protections at least as broad as those afforded to print media.

  • Individual users and parents, not the Federal Government, should determine for themselves and their children what material comes into their homes based on their own tastes and values.

  • The CDA will be ineffective at protecting children from "indecent" or "patently" offensive material online.

The CIEC challenge is separate from the case brought by the ACLU, EFF, EPIC, Planned Parenthood, and several other plaintiffs in the same Philadelphia court on February 8, 1996. The CIEC case will reinforce the ACLU's efforts while focusing on the unique nature of the Internet and alternatives to government content regulations. On February 27, the ACLU and CIEC cases were officially consolidated. Both the ACLU and CIEC attorneys are closely coordinating their efforts.

In order to demonstrate the nature of the Internet and the effectiveness of user empowerment technologies, CIEC arranged to wire the court room directly to the Internet. The Center for Democracy and Technology, with the help of Bell Atlantic and Philadelphia law firm Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis (an amicus counsel in the case), installed a T-1 circuit and a small local area network in the Ceremonial Room of the Philadelphia court. To the best of our knowledge, this was the first time in history that a Federal Courtroom has been wired to the Net for the purposes of a Trial.

The outcome of the legal challenges to the CDA will likely determine the legal status of speech on the Internet and the future of the First Amendment in the Information Age.

Updated on February 25, 1997

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