cr> ACLU: States Exploit Cyberporn Hysteria


Craig A. Johnson

This Cyber-Liberties Alert is alarming reading.  The state censors
are out in force.  Please take a moment to read it, and consider the
recommendations for personal action.


Date:          Fri, 26 Jan 1996 23:36:22 GMT
From:          "Ann Beeson, Cyber-Liberties Update Editor"
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update 1/24/96

January 24, 1996 
A bi-weekly e-zine on cyber-liberties cases and controversies 
at the state and federal level. 
*   State Politicians Exploit Cyber-Porn Hysteria; Eight More States
Propose Online Censorship Bills 
*   New York Bill Would Outlaw Online Art and AIDS Education 
*   Washington State Censorship Bill Resurfaces Despite Last Year's Defeat 
*   Congress May Vote on Final Telecommunications Bill Next Week 
STATE PAGE (Legislation/Agency/Court Cases) 
*   State Politicians Exploit Cyber-Porn Hysteria; Seven More States
Propose Online Censorship Bills 
Last year, while online activists were giving their all to fight the still
pending Communications Decency Act, many state legislatures were carelessly
crafting online censorship bills at home.  Nearly twenty states have
considered legislation to censor the Internet.  While the ACLU and other
civil libertarians were successful in stopping a few of these bills, at
least eight states have already passed legislation to censor the Internet
(Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Oklahoma, and
Cyber-porn hysteria is still running rampant in the media and many Luddite
politicians are ready this year to gain political points by passing even
more bills that falsely claim to stop online pedophiles.  Many states that
passed bills last year are considering more regulation this year. 
Even New York and Washington -- traditionally strong protectors of First
Amendment values and hot spots for the online and computer industries --
have rushed to join the Luddites with drastic online censorship
legislation.  Bills are also actively pending in California, Maryland,
North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. 
These state laws are *just as dangerous* as the federal Communications
Decency Act: 
     - They subject online users everywhere to a multitude of different
censorship laws and effectively reduce online content to the standards of
the most conservative state. 
     - They restrict vague categories of material deemed "indecent" or
"harmful to minors" in ways that are certain to chill constitutionally
protected speech. 
     - They are overbroad and put service providers and telecommunications
carriers at risk of criminal prosecution for the content posted by others
through their systems. 
     - While claiming to protect children, they unconstitutionally infringe
on the rights of adults to communicate freely online and they keep
important educational material from children that could literally save
their lives. 
Many cyber-libertarians have been lulled into inaction on the state bills
because they thought the Communications Decency Act would pass and preempt
the state laws.  THIS IS A LOSING STRATEGY!  Remember, we don't want the
CDA -- or *any* new law that criminalizes constitutionally protected online
speech.  And the preemption language in the current version of the CDA is
limited at best: It does not prohibit states from enacting harsher laws to
punish *users* -- it only protects commercial service and content
providers, nonprofit libraries, and institutions of higher education from
harsher state penalties. 
     1.  Be on the lookout for news of online censorship legislation in
your state.  Catch it early and nip it in the bud through effective
organizing and advocacy. 
     2.  Form an anti-censorship coalition in your state.  The coalition
could include: 
          -Your state ACLU affiliate office.  (For a director of ACLU
affiliate offices, see  The ACLU can also put you in
touch with other local civil liberties groups. 
          -Local Internet Service Providers. 
          -Local content providers and other Internet-related businesses. 
          -Local computer clubs and user groups. 
          -Local educators and library associations that provide youth
access to the Internet.  
     3.  Schedule meetings with your state legislators to discuss the
drastic implications of the bill and to demonstrate alternative means for
controlling minor's access to inappropriate content. 
     4.  Seek local, state, and national press attention about your
     5.  Help the ACLU track the bills by keeping us apprised of activity
in your state.  Send news about state bills and anti-censorship coalitions
to •••@••.••• for inclusion in the ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update.  (Send
news to Ann Beeson, Editor, •••@••.•••.) 
*   New York Censorship Bill Would Outlaw Online Art and AIDS Education 
This week, the New York State Legislature passed a bill (Senate Bill 210,
Assembly Bill 3967) that makes it a crime to engage in communication with a
minor that "depicts actual or simulated nudity or sexual conduct" and which
is "harmful to minors."  THE BILL IS NOW ON THE GOVERNOR'S DESK. 
The New York bill's vague terms could ban the following online materials: 
     - Safe sex information distributed over the web 
     - Nude art on the Whitney Museum's web site 
     - Medical information that includes descriptions or pictures of the
human body 
     - Any communication in a chat room or newsgroup that discusses sexual
conduct -- even discussions promoting abstinence 
Many federal courts have struck down similar bills as unconstitutionally
vague because, like the New York bill, they failed to adhere to the
three-pronged "harmful to minors" test articulated in _Ginsberg v. New
York_, 390 U.S. 629 (1968), and modified by _Miller v. California_, 413
U.S. 15 (1974). 
And while the drafters of the New York bill may have intended to impact
only communications to minors, the nature of the online medium makes it
practically impossible to limit communications only to minors without
infringing upon the rights of adults to communicate with each other. 
The bill also puts online service providers at risk of criminal prosecution
if the banned material is distributed through their systems. 
Call or fax Governor Pataki today and urge him to veto S210/A3967. 
     Phone:  518-474-8390  -or-  518-474-1041 
     Fax:  518-474-0888  -or-  518-474-2344 
For a copy of the New York bill and a sample phone conversation with the
governor's office, see the New York coalition alert at 
If you're an Internet business, sign the Voters Telecommunications Watch
letter for businesses opposing the bill.  See or mail
your signature to •••@••.•••. 
ACLU Press Contact:  Beth Haroules, New York Civil Liberties Union,
*    Washington State Censorship Bill Resurfaces Despite Last Year's Defeat

The ACLU of Washington is once again battling a bill (HB2267) that
designates a vast range of artistic, educational, scientific and other
expression as "material harmful to minors" if the material has sexual
content and fails to comport with community standards. 
The bill could have the following drastic effects on the online medium: 
     - The educational use of online services for K-12 students would be
vastly curtailed or eliminated altogether because educators could be held
criminally liable for giving a student access to the Internet. 
     - Online service providers would be held criminally liable unless they
required every user to prove their age before signing onto the system. 
Such a requirement would violate the privacy of online users and greatly
chill the free exchange of ideas over online systems. 
     - Online content providers and other Internet-related businesses would
move away from Washington rather than pay the costs of creating separate
content -- one version for adults, and one for minors -- in order to avoid
criminal liability. 
1.  Mail, fax, or call Clyde Ballard, Speaker of the House and Chair of the
House Rules Committee, and urge him to oppose HB2267: 
Clyde Ballard 
Speaker of the House 
Olympia, WA 98504-0623 
fax: 360-786-7871 
phone: 360-786-7999 
2.  Mail, fax, or call Senator Adam Smith, Chair of the Senate Law and
Justice Committee, and urge him to oppose HB2267 if it passes the House and
is sent to the Senate: 
Adam Smith 
Chair, Senate Law and Justice Committee 
P.O. Box 40482 
Olympia, WA 98504-0482 
fax: 360-786-1999 
phone: 360-786-7664 
2.  Mail or fax a copy of your letter to Jerry Sheehan at the ACLU of
Washington so that he can use it while lobbying against the bill in the
next few weeks: 
Jerry Sheehan, Legislative Director 
ACLU of Washington 
705 Second Avenue Suite 300 
Seattle, Washington 98104 
fax: 206-624-2190 
For a copy of House Bill 2267, see 010996. 
ACLU Press Contact:  Jerry Sheehan, Legislative Director, ACLU of
Washington, 206-624-2184 
FEDERAL PAGE (Legislation/Agency/Court Cases) 
*    Congress May Vote on Final Telecommunications Bill Next Week 
According to reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the
conference committee on the telecommunications bill may send the bill to
the floor for final approval sometime next week. 
Online users must continue to urge the House and Senate to REJECT the
entire telecommunications bill.  See 12/22/95 Cyber-Liberties Update, "Why
the Telecommunications Deregulation Bill As Reported by the Conference
Committee Should Be Rejected." 
The ACLU remains ready to challenge the bill's online censorship provisions
in court if they become law. 
Visit the ACLU's World Wide Web site for the latest news and information on
civil liberties.  See  America Online users should
check out our live chats, auditorium events, *very* active message boards,
and complete news on civil liberties, at keyword ACLU. 
ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update 
Editor: Ann Beeson (•••@••.•••) 
American Civil Liberties Union National Office 
132 West 43rd Street 
New York, New York 10036 
To subscribe to the ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update, send a message to
•••@••.••• with "subscribe Cyber-Liberties" in the body of the
message.  To terminate your subscription, send a message to
•••@••.••• with "unsubscribe Cyber-Liberties" in the body of the
For general information about the ACLU, write to •••@••.•••. 

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