cr> VTW ALERT: Stop New York State Internet bill


Craig A. Johnson

Below is an excerpt from the latest Voters' Telecommunications Watch 
(VTW) Alert regarding the New York state bill which would prohibit 
"disseminating" material which is
"harmful to minors."  (See Cyber Rights 19 December, "Exon-like
Plague Hits New York.")

The remainder of the VTW alert containing the actual bill language is 
available on VTW's Web site or by e-mail from VTW (contact information at end of



Date:          Wed, 24 Jan 1996 15:01:54 -0500 (EST)
From:          "Shabbir J. Safdar" <•••@••.•••>
Subject:       ALERT: Stop New York State Internet bill


         Email: •••@••.•••
        January 24, 1996

  Coalition members of this campaign include:

  Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)
    New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)
     Voters Telecommunications Watch (VTW)

      Redistribute this message freely but do not remove this banner.
      This alert was authored by the Voters Telecommunications Watch.

 What's Happening: New York State Legislature Passess Bill to
     Hold Online Services Liable For Content
 What You Can Do Now
 Letter from NY Internet businesses; sign your business on!
 Text of A3967/S210
 Press Contact Information


The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed a bill that would
make online service providers (including commercial services such as
America Online and Prodigy and direct Internet Service Providers such
as Panix, MindVox, and Echo) liable for the content on their networks.

The bill would prohibit the knowing "dissemination" of material that
depicts "actual or simulated nudity,[or] sexual conduct", that is
"harmful to minors" and is communicated to a minor through a "computer
communications system".

If Gov. Pataki signs this bill into law it could impose significant
burdens upon Internet Access businesses to screen the Internet for
their users, drive Internet content businesses from New York state,
and chill free speech.  Here is a short list of the problems with this

SERVICE PROVIDERS The bill penalizes those who "knowingly"
disseminates material that depicts "actual or simulated nudity".  The
term "knowingly" is not clearly defined.  Everyone knows there is a
small amount of material that may not be suitable for consumption by
minors.  Moreover, the term "disseminates" could be understood to
apply to *both* individual subscribers *and* service providers who
operate online networks

In order to avoid liability under this legislation, an online service
provider may be compelled to pre-screen all material on their networks
to which minors have access.  From a practical standpoint, such
pre-screening is simply impossible due to the literally millions of
pages of information which flow over online services every day.

Holding service providers liable for the content on their networks
also creates tremendous free speech and privacy problems.  If service
providers are forced to pre-screen the material on their networks in
order to avoid liability, no message will be private.  Privacy and the
free flow of information online will be severely impaired.

The law does not take into account the fact that parents and teachers
have extensive tools to control children's access to the Internet
already, and that these will be far more effective than state laws
that cannot stop people outside the NY from making such information

If you are a content provider, you will be responsible under
this bill to ensure that nothing you publish contains "actual or
simulated nudity" or "sexual conduct" and is "harmful to minors". If
you are unsure, you will be required to take measures to ensure that
minors cannot access your information.  However what measures those
might be are not made clear.  Even if asking for an age was the
requirement, this is not an insignificant amount of work for those
with sites with hundreds of pages. 

This is especially dangerous for those who have WWW pages, mailing
lists, or newsgroups which republish submissions from others.

On the net, everyone is a publisher, so you will be just as liable
under this bill as the largest publishing company in the world.

While the intent of the drafters of this legislation is noble, the New
York "Cyberporn" bill  could force many New York based online service
providers and content providers to violate the free speech and privacy
rights of their users and in some cases to go out of business, or,
worse yet, leave New York for other states which do not impose
liability on them if this is signed into law.

There is one last chance to stop this proposal.  Follow the
instructions below and ask the sponsors of this bill to halt this
proposal.  Please also ask New York Governor Pataki to veto any bill
without these changes.  Children can be protected online and criminals
can be punished without forcing online service providers to violate
their users privacy and free speech rights.


1. If you're a business owner or partner, email •••@••.••• right
   away to signon to the business letter.  There is no time to waste!

2. Call or fax the sponsors of the bill and ask them to revise the
   so it does not infringe on the First Amendment.  Explain to them it
   is poorly worded and does not clearly exempt online services or
   clearly define what it is trying to accomplish.

   Here is a list of the people you should call or fax using the
   sample communique below.

   Assembly member                      Telephone       Fax
   ----------------------               ------------    ------------
   Speaker Sheldon Silver               212 385-6680    212 385-6799
   Assemblywoman Destito                518 455-5454    518 455-5928

   Senate member                        Telephone       Fax
   ----------------------               ------------    ------------
   Majority Leader Joseph Bruno         518-455-3191    518-455-2448
   Minority Leader Martin Connor        518-455-2701    518-432-8832
   William Sears                        518-455-3334    518-426-6964

3. Call or fax Governor Pataki and ask him not to sign the bill in its
   current form because of the negative impact it will have on
   businesses and free speech.  It is very important that you make
   sure you mention that you are a business owner if you are.

   You can reach the Governor at:

 Telephone: (518) 474-8390 or (518) 474-1041
 Fax: (518) 474-0888 or (518) 474-2344

   Sample Communique

 GOV: Executive Chamber, yes?
 You: Hi, I'd like to urge the governor to veto S210/A3967, as it
      will be very harmful to my Internet business.  My business
  Joe's Internet Provider
  New York, NY 11201
  212 555 1212

       Thank you!
   or try:
 GOV: Executive Chamber, yes?
 You: Hi, I'd like the governor to veto the Internet censorship
      bill S210/A3967, as it will be harmful to Internet free speech.
             I'm a New York resident at:
        212 Exon St.
        NY NY, 11111

      Thank you!

   Please be *very* polite.  This person will be taking a lot of

4. Send a letter to •••@••.••• and let us know that you called.

   $ Mail •••@••.•••
   Subject: called gov pataki

   I called Pataki's office and asked him to veto the bill.  I'm a
   business owner and can be reached at 212 555 1212.  


   I called Pataki's office and asked him to veto the bill.  I'm a New



[The following letter is designed to be sent to Gov. Pataki in regards
 the NYS "Internet censorship" bill A3967/S210.]

 We need to send this letter asap.  Please respond in the affirmative
 if you wish to signon. To signon your ISP, web business, consulting
 business, or Internet cafe, send •••@••.••• an email with:

 Your name
 Your business name
 Your title
 Work phone number
 Email address for you
 Infobot email address if you have one
 A one or two sentence description of your company
 The number of employees you have (1 to however many)


Dear Governor,

The Internet censorship bill S210/A3967 would significantly hamper, if
not drive away, businesses who provide Internet services and content
in NY. For businesses to continue to survive in New York, you must
veto it.

The bill attempts to regulate the Internet in such a way as to burden
businesses with the responsibilities of parents by implying that
Internet access and content providers screen such information.

In addition, this bill would chill free speech and force businesses to
screen what their subscribers read, and does little to protect the
interests of children who can obtain access to material outside New
York and the US anyway.

Thousands of people use local New York businesses everyday as their
onramp to the global Internet.  They download millions of pages of
information every day through these services.  There is no feasible
way for these businesses to screen what users want to look at, nor is
it possible to ascertain the age of the person browsing the material.

Such a responsibility belongs with the consumers of such information.
Many of our businesses have fewer than thirty employees.  The staff
required to screen all such information would easily have to be twice
that size.

Finally, contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not an
unregulated frontier.  Current laws that criminalize the distribution
of obscene material, child pornography, and the solicitation of minors
for sex are illegal if they're done through computers, just as they
are illegal if done on a street corner.  Law enforcement has gone
after those who commit these crimes already, and will continue to do
so with the strength and force of existing statutes; no new laws are

In closing, let us reiterate that this sort of legislation is likely
to make other states besides New York with more rational approaches to
the Internet more attractive to businesses.

Please veto the Internet censorship legislation before you.  Our
livelihoods, and the livelihoods of many New Yorkers, depends on it.

[The undersigned New York businesses]


The Voters Telecommunications Watch (VTW) is the premier grass-roots
civil liberties watchdog group on the Internet.  You can reach VTW via
email at •••@••.••• (please put "PRESS DEADLINE" in the subject) or
via telephone at 718-596-2851.  Our WWW site is at

The NYCLU is the NY State affiliate of the ACLU.  Our defense of the
First Amendment and the New York State Constitution's guarantee of
freedom of expression is in the forefront of our efforts.  You can
Beth Haroules at NYCLU at 212-382-0557.  NYCLU is on the WWW at

The Center For Democracy and Technology is a non-profit public
interest organization based in Washington DC.  The Center's mission is
to develop and advocate public policies that advance constitutional
civil liberties and democratic values in new computer and
communications technologies.  You can reach Jonah Seiger or Danny
Weitzner at CDT at 202-637-9800.  CDT is on the WWW at


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