cr> Reforming the Communications Decency Act:


Craig A. Johnson

While Representative Eshoo deserves kudos for her understanding of 
online issues, the following interview is very disappointing in some 
critical respects, and misleading in others.

One might ask, for instance, if the courts are going to "knock
out... [the indecency standard]," as she suggests, and if "parental
empowerment" software is available and effective, one might want to
pose the question:   Why does Eshoo think that Congress should
legislate content on the Net?  She claims,"We can and should legislatively
speak to the concerns that parents have."  This doesn't seem to me to 
be a foregone conclusion, given Congress' sad and pathetic role so 

I will post my short response to Eshoo following this posting.


Date:          Fri, 29 Mar 1996 08:10:20 -0500
From:          Dave Farber <•••@••.•••>
Subject:       IP: Reforming the Communications Decency Act:
To:            •••@••.••• (interesting-people mailing list)

Reforming the Communications Decency Act:
An interview with Rep. Anna Eshoo

(From Interactive Age Digital, on the Wed at

On March 21, a federal court began judging the fate of the
Communications Decency Act (CDA) -- the restrictive legislation
barring online dissemination of material judged "indecent" As the
legal challenges progress through the courts, Congress is considering
legislation designed to narrow the scope of the indecency ban.

One of those bills, the Online Parental Control Act of 1996 was
introduced last week. Authored by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a Democrat
representing most of Silicon Valley in California, the bill seeks to
bar only material that is considered "harmful to minors, using a
criteria based on widely accepted standards now in place across the

Eshoo, first elected in 1992, serves on the House Commerce Committee,
and on the Telecommunications Subcommittee, where the
Telecommunications bill and Decency act were shaped.

Interactive Age Digital's Gary Brickman recently spoke with
Representative. Eshoo about censoring the censorship laws.

IAD: How did the Communications Decency Act become law?

REP. ESHOO: This indecency proposal that became part of the overall
bill did not go either through the committee, nor was it amended on
the floor of the House. This was slipped in when we were in the
conference committee. So, my experience there -- and it was a very
close vote on this indecency proposal - really took me back. It said
that First Amendment rights, in my view, would be violated. Right
alongside of that, the government -- not moms and dads -- would be the
decider on what is harmful to minors. I'd been working with various
individuals and organizations to shape legislation that would correct
this, and that's what the Online Parental Control Act of 1996

IAD: How did the right wing of the Republican Party get the strength
to pass the CDA?

REP. ESHOO: Certainly the language that was jammed into the bill at
the last minute I don't think withstands the scrutiny of the public.
Of course Rick White [Republican - Washington], one of my colleagues
in the House, tried to have language that would not be as restrictive
as the language ended up. Certainly there were many members that
quoted Ralph Reed who heads up the Christian Coalition. But it lost on
a very close vote [17-16].

IAD: So you think the Christian Coalition was the major force in this
country behind the CDA?

REP. ESHOO: I think very much so. But I also think there were
organizations that certainly lobbied on the Senate side -- because it
was Senator Exon (Democrat-Nebraska) that first introduced language
that resembled this, the decency clause. There were many family and
parental groups that stressed their concerns about what children can
and are, most frankly, submitted too. And so that became a very real
concern of members of Congress.

The irony in the Telecommunications bill is that Congress understood
television better than the Internet. Because the V-Chip did become
part of the legislative language when it comes to TV. My sense is,
that most members of Congress have little appreciation or
understanding that the Internet is not a federal interstate freeway --
it's not a public highway. This is a private network.

IAD: To go back to the analogy of television versus the Internet in
terms of government regulation -- isn't the Internet funded in part by
federal dollars that go to educational institutions or research
facilities that receive grants for work they do on the Internet?

REP. ESHOO: They certainly have the Internet, and they certainly make
use of it. But the Internet in and of itself is not a
government-funded network.

IAD: But neither is ABC or CBS...

REP. ESHOO: I'm sure going back over the years the government, through
research dollars helped develop it. But for the most part, these are
private networks. Cyberspace is something that is relatively new.

IAD: Should government regulate the Internet in any way? What form
would that take?

REP. ESHOO: We're not talking about regulation per se, we're talking
about censorship, which goes right to the heart of our First Amendment
Rights. The way the language is constructed in the law is that the
indecency standard is so vague and so broad that it leads to the
criminal penalties that are contained in the bill. In my view, that is
harmful in and of itself. I'm a mother, I'm a parent. My children are
grown now, but I'm certainly sensitive to the legitimate concerns that
parents would have.

IAD: Is it realistic to expect that in an election year, with
Republicans in charge of Congress that your bill will pass?

REP. ESHOO: I think that we have a very good opportunity to gather
bipartisan support. I plan to demonstrate the technologies that are
available now [to block sites from minors], so members will be not
only be introduced to the legislation, but also understand the tools
that will provide what parents legitimately need to have.

IAD: The President was fairly silent on the Communications Decency Act
as it was worded when it passed...

REP. ESHOO: It was not an area of the bill that was highlighted. This
small part of the bill, as much of an impact as it had to online
users, was not something that was debated on the floor of the House of

IAD: Do you expect the White House will support your bill?

REP. ESHOO: We will certainly meet with the White House and make them
very much aware of what this legislation contains.

IAD: There are some concerns in the online community that judging
material based on "community standards," a criteria supported in your
bill, is impossible to apply to the Internet...

REP. ESHOO: Just a moment. My bill adds two new defenses. One, the use
of labeling or segregating systems to restrict access to online
materials, using the standards defined by PICS, the platform for
Internet content selection project, and two, it protects information
content providers who use these technologies from civil or criminal

IAD: What will the impact on the growth of the Internet industry if
the law stands as it is now written?

REP. ESHOO: This is more than a growing industry in the country. We're
the leaders in the world on this. Obviously we're dealing with a law
that applies to the United States, but we have to keep in mind that
this is a world wide activity. I think it can and will have a chilling
effect on both the part of users, and on the part of those who
manufacture technology.

IAD:Why not let the courts deal with this?

REP. ESHOO: Well, the court is not going to rewrite the law. The case
is designed to knock out this section [the indecency standard] of the
law. If in fact it does -- and my guess is, the court will -- what's
left in place? I really do believe that we can and should
legislatively speak to the concerns that parents have. I think that's
a very important thing. But the way we do it, and honor the
Constitution, has to be primary.

 -- Gary Brickman
Managing Editor, Interactive Age Digital


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