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Free Speech Advocates File Lawsuits Against Net-Speech Restrictions

On Thursday, February 8, 11:00 a.m. EST, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. Included in the bill was an expanded version of the Communications Decency Act, which included language supported in previous measures by Exon, Hyde, and others. Also included were the controversial V-Chip provisions supported by Clinton in his State of the Union address.

Immediately after the signing, three separate lawsuits were filed challenging the Constitutionality of the new speech restrictions.

The ACLU and 19 other organizations filed a complaint seeking the overturning of the CDA and a law prohibiting discussions of abortion on the Net, plus a temporary restraining order to keep the Gov’t from enforcing any of the provisions. See the ACLU’s press release for more details.

This lawsuit was spectacularly successful, leading to a unanimous decision in favor of free speech by a Federal Court followed by an appeal and a nearly unanimous decision supporting the AClU by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the American Reporter initiated its own lawsuit by publishing an article written by a former trial judge and carefully crafted to ensure that it violated the “indecency” standard specified in the CDA. More information can be found in the full text of their complaint. On July 29, in this suit also, the court also ruled the CDA unconstitutional. The Center for Reproductive Law & Policy and NARAL have filed a lawsuit on behalf of several parties, challenging the newly-extended restrictions on abortion-related discussion.

Finally, a group called the CIEC (Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition), in coordination with a number of major on-line services and other organizations, filed a lawsuit on February 26. Their complaint seeks to strike down the “indecency” and “patently offensive” provisions. It will not affect Hyde’s extension of the Comstock Act, which is expected to go nowhere legally.

A related Web page chronicles previous events.

CPSR Cyber-Rights is involved in the ACLU lawsuit through its parent organization, and is committed to promoting free speech and other basic rights on the Internet, and elsewhere. Information on joining the mailing list is here.

A short list of notables in this massive lawsuit include:

See also a complete list of plantiffs,

Legislative Documents and Records

Official Statements/News about the Lawsuits

Other Resources

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Last updated: 15 January 1998

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