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The Internet Is Not A Television

The Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC), a broad coalition of library and civil liberties groups, online service providers, newspaper, book, magazine and recording industry associations, and over 56,000 individual Internet users, represents the entire breadth of the Internet community. The CIEC was assembled in February of 1996 to challenge the CDA on the grounds that the Internet is a unique communications medium, different from traditional broadcast mass media which deserves broad First Amendment protections.

Unlike television and radio, which has a limited channel capacity and affords viewers little control beyond the channel button and the on/off switch, every Internet user is a publisher with the capacity to reach millions of people at very low cost. Individual Internet users also have tremendous control over the content they receive online, and can prevent their children from viewing objectionable material, whether sexually explicit or otherwise, by employing inexpensive and easy-to-use blocking and filtering technologies which can filter based on the individual tastes and values of parents, not the federal government.

By imposing broadcast-style content regulations on the open, decentralized Internet, the CDA severely restricts the first amendment rights of all Americans and threatens the very existence of the Internet itself. Although well intentioned, the CDA can never be effective at controlling content on a global medium, where a web site in Sweden is as close as a site in Boston. The CIEC case is based on the argument that the only effective and constitutional way to control children's access to objectionable material on the Internet is to rely on user control.

It is also important to note that the CDA is not about child pornography, obscenity, or using the Internet to stalk children. These are already illegal under current law. Instead, the CDA prohibits posting "indecent" or "patently offensive" materials in a public forum on the Internet -- including web pages, newsgroups, chat rooms, or online discussion lists. This would include the texts of classic fiction such as the "Catcher in the Rye" and "Ulysees", the "7 dirty words", and other materials which, although offensive to some, enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment if published in a newspaper, magazine, or a book, or in the public square.

The outcome of this case will have a tremendous impact on the future of the First Amendment in the information age.

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