White’s Open Letter [cr951207]


Richard Moore



December 4, 1995

To members of the Internet Community and Concerned Citizens:

     For the past several months, I have closely followed the online
debate over Congressional attempts to impose content controls on the
Internet.  Your phone calls, letters, and email were instrumental in
convincing 420 of my House colleagues to support the Cox/Wyden/White
"Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act."

     As you may know, on Wednesday, December 6th, the Telecommunications
Reform Legislation Conference Committee, of which I am a member, will
choose between two competing proposals:  one offered by my colleague,
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL), and my own
proposal.  I believe that the decision we reach on Wednesday will have
a significant impact on the future of the Internet.  While many of us
who use the Internet feel that Congress should steer clear of any new
regulation of the Internet and online information services, the
reality is that proponents of more severe restrictions on online
content have been successful in convincing many in Congress that new
regulations are necessary.

     The conference committee is charged with reconciling several
competing approaches to addressing children's access to objectionable
material online.  In June, the Senate, by an overwhelming majority
passed the Exon/Coats "Communications Decency Act."  In August, the
House passed the Cox/Wyden/White "Internet Freedom and Family
Empowerment Act," which emphasized parental empowerment over
government content regulations. At the same time, the House also
approved a new indecency crime sponsored by Chairman Hyde.

     As an avid Internet user and a strong believer in the enormous
potential of cyberspace to educate, expand commercial opportunities,
and create  jobs, I have developed an alternative proposal that I
expect to offer to conferees on Wednesday.  My proposal will ensure
freedom of speech and encourage the development of technological tools
to help parents prevent their children from accessing inappropriate
material online.  It would also prohibit the Federal Communications
Commission from controlling online content and from meddling in the
underlying technologies of the net.

     In addition, my proposal will create tough penalties for those
few bad actors who send truly objectionable material directly to minors or
display such material.  However, those who make good faith, reasonable
efforts to label content and enable it to be blocked or filtered by
parental control technologies (such as the PICS standards currently
being developed by MIT and the World Wide Web Consortium) would be
immune from prosecution.

     Briefly, my proposal:

*  Substitutes the narrow, "harmful to minors" standard instead of the
   broad, vague, and constitutionally suspect "indecency" standard.
   The "harmful to minors" standard refers to material that is
   explicit and, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic,
   political or scientific value for minors.

*  Prohibits the Federal Government from regulating online content or
   from having oversight over the underlying technologies of the  net.

*  Would prohibit displaying material that is "harmful to minors," but
   create immunity for those who make good faith and reasonable efforts
   to implement parental empowerment technologies that enable screening
   of unwanted content.

*  Would not impose liability on online service providers merely for
   transmitting the messages of their users.

     At this time, the only option for the conference committee is to
choose between the White proposal or the Hyde substitute amendment. As
the only option that minimizes government intrusion on freedom of
speech, relies on parents to make their own choices about what
material comes into their homes, and prevents the FCC from imposing
regulations on online content, I hope you, as well as my colleagues in
Congress, will agree with my approach.

                              Rick White
                              Member of Congress



 Posted by      Richard K. Moore <•••@••.•••>
                Wexford, Ireland (USA citizen)
                Editor: The Cyberjournal (@CPSR.ORG)

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