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Free Speech On The Internet V. United States Constitution

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The internet became a very popular and huge way of getting millions of different kinds of materials and information for everyday use in the later 80's early 90's. It became easy for anyone to access millions of different kinds of materials ninety nine percent of which is decent according to our governments standards and one or less percent which is considered to be material the is indecent or harmful to minors.(ABC) These facts maybe deceiving however because there are millions of internet sites so the internet may only be one percent indecent but that means there are thousands upon thousands of sites that are indecent.(ABC) The biggest question is how can we protect our children from these indecent sites? The government believed that passing a bill banning indecent material from the internet would help in the protection of the children who use the internet. So in 1996 Congress passed the CDA (communications decency act) along with the TCA (tela communication act).(Lewis) The TCA was purposed and passed by congress in order to band indecent material from the radio and television and the CDA was a last minute add onto this bill.(Greenhouse) The CDA was never heard before congress and many of the members questioned its constitutionality. Clition did signed the bill however it was understood that he was hopping that the courts would declare the bill unconstitutional.(Greenhouse)

It became obvious very quick that this bill was going to cause problems. In June of 96 the same year the bill was passed a New York internet based paper filed a law suite against the CDA saying "'This bill is a violation of the rights of not only myself, but a violation of the rights of the American people. Long live the net,' said Joe Shea, editor in chief of The American Reporter, the electronic newspaper that challenged the law."(Lewis) This case however was not the first. In Philadelphia a group of some 50 organization filed a lawsuit against the CDA and the court also ruled in their favor. (Lewis) More and more cases began popping up in federal courts until December of 96 when it was finally brought before the Supreme Court in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union.(ACLU v Janet Reno)

The problem with the CDA was the fact that it didn't clearly define indecent material. Many thought the broadness of the terminology used in the bill made it impossible for this law ever to last.(Lewis) It stated that you could be fined up to $250,000 and serve up to 2 years in prison for transmitting "indecent" or "potentially offensive" materials over the internet. (Childs) What is "indecent" material or "potentially offensive" material? Is a website considered indecent if they use curse words and if it is indecent should they be fined $250,000 and serve up to 2 years in prison? This was answered on June 27, 1997 when the supreme court declared the CDA unconstitutional in the case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union.(Greenhouse) Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that free speech on the internet is held to be a freedom protected by the highest of laws, the constitution, specifically the first amendment.(Greenhouse) Like many other Americans the Justices agreed that it is important to try and protect our children from indecent material on the internet however this is a matter which should be handled by the parents, not the government.(Greenhouse) District Judge Buckwalter says "my concerns are these: above all, I believe that the challenged provisions are so vague as to violate both the First and Fifth Amendments." He also questions how the government could be arguing that "patently offensive" and "indecent" are one in the same.(ACUL v. Janet Reno)

This however was not the end. Congress in response to the ruling on the CDA decided to pass another bill called the Child Online Protection Act or COPA. (Supreme Court Affirms) Where the CDA failed Congress was hoping the COPA would succeed. This bill fined someone $50,000 and place them in jail for six months for posting material harmful to minors for commercial purposes.(Supreme Court Affirms) It also was more specific covering only the world wide web, communications made for commercial purposes, and restricts only materials that are harmful to minors.(Supreme Court Rules) However questions still were asked. "Who is going to tell me what is harmful and what is not harmful to my child and what about if want to look up something that maybe harmful to minor?"(Kids and Civil Rights) where just some of the questions asked by Americans. What the COPA and CDA did was try and limit the materials that were allowed to posted on the inter by forcing indecent sites to require a credit card or prof of identification before someone could access an indecent web site.(Supreme Court Affirms) This bill although very specific in defining harmful as patently offensive content that panders to the prurient interest and lacks serious, literary artistic, political or scientific value, still was challenge in the courts shortly after being passed.(Douhy)

"Free speech, Oliver Wendell Holmes famously declared, ought not to extend to falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater."(Policing Cyberspace) This statement supports the fact that as there should be some limitations on freedom a speech, but it became obvious that Congress did not find that area that allowed for "safe freedom," meaning freedom to express yourself without harming others, with the COPA and the CDA. Shortly after the bill was passed two cases were brought before the federal courts. The first in Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction on the COPA.(Policing Cyberspace) Judge Lowell Reed who presided over the Philadelphia case was quoated saying "The COPA may or may not protect children from indecent materials but it most definitely puts a restriction on the freedom of speech that is protect by the constitution." (Policing Cyberspace) Shortly after the injunction was issued a court in Oregon awarded 107 million dollars in damages caused by the Nuremberg Files. (Policing Cyberspace) This anti-abortion web site listed names and address of abortion providers.(Policing Cyberspace) After the two different rulings the Supreme Court decided that they should make a ruling on the COPA. In Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union (2002) the Supreme Court made its decision.(Supreme Court Rules) Much like the case Reno v. American Civil



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