communication decency act

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communication decency act

  1. 1. It was the first attempt to regulate pornographic material on the Internet by the U.S. Congress. In 1995 it was introduced to the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation by Senators James Exon and Slade Gorton and was added June 14, 1995. It was Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  The amendment that became the CDA was added to the Telecommunications Act in the Senate by an 84–16 vote on June 14, 1995.
  2. 2. It affected the Internet and online communications in two significant ways. -First, it attempted to regulate both indecency (when available to children) and obscenity in cyberspace. -Second, Section 230 of the Act, declared that operators of Internet services were not to be construed as publishers.
  3. 3. The relevant sections of the Act were introduced in response to fears that Internet pornography was on the rise. Indecency in TV and radio broadcasting had already been regulated by the Federal Communications Commission—broadcasting of offensive speech was restricted to certain hours of the day, when minors were supposedly least likely to be exposed.
  4. 4. Passed by Congress on February 1, 1996, and signed by President Bill Clinton on February 8, 1996, the CDA imposed criminal sanctions on anyone who knowingly (A) uses an interactive computer service to send to a specific person or persons under 18 years of age, or (B) uses any interactive computer service to display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age
  5. 5. Section 230It added protection for online service providers and users from actions against them based on the content of third parties, stating in part that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider". Effectively, this section immunizes both ISPs and Internet users from liability for torts committed by others using their website or online forum, even if the provider fails to take action after receiving actual notice of the harmful or offensive content.
  6. 6. Case Summary In 1997, a group of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), challenged the “indecent transmission” and “patently offensive display” provisions of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. These provisions made it a crime to send offensive Internet material to persons under age eighteen. The district court found for the ACLU. On behalf of the Federal Government, Attorney General Janet Reno appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court's Decision The Supreme Court invalidated both provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, because they violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an opinion in which six other justices joined fully. Justice Stevens reviewed the operation of the Internet and the difficulty of verifying the age of an Internet user. Justice Stevens pointed out several problems with the act: It did not define “indecent,” it did not allow parents to authorize their children to access restricted materials, it applied “to the entire universe of cyberspace” rather than to well-defined areas.
  7. 7. Moreover, the Internet is not a “scarce” commodity like the airwaves, so there is less justification for governmental regulation. Finally, the regulated materials do not just appear on the computer screen, but must be actively sought out. Justice O'Connor concurred in part and dissented in part. She made an analogy to zoning law: “I view the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) as little more than an attempt by Congress to create 'adult zones' on the Internet. Our precedent indicates that the creation of such zones can be constitutionally sound.” However, she agreed with the majority that the particular restrictions imposed by the CDA went beyond the permissible scope of legitimate zoning regulation and therefore joined the majority in finding the law unconstitutional.

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