From: mea culpa (jerichot_private)
Date: Sat Jul 18 1998 - 07:02:22 PDT

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    Alarm Sounded On Online Liberties
    by Marc Savlov
    2:10pm  16.Jul.98.PDT The ongoing battle for personal rights and freedoms
    on the Net is threatening to become even more explosive as a pair of
    related bills prepare to go before the full US Senate, possibly as early
    as next week.  Together, the Internet School Filtering Act (S. 1619) and
    the so-called Communications Decency Act II (S. 1482) are at the center
    of what many activists feel is a serious threat to online liberty. Both
    bills have already passed markup in the Senate.
    "[They] represent a serious threat to the First Amendment," said Ron
    Weich, Legislative Consultant to the American Civil Liberties Union.
    "In the case of the Communications Decency Act II, the bill would
    criminalize constitutionally protected speech between adults and would
    have chilling effect on a whole range of communications on the Internet,"
    said Weich. "The Internet School Filtering Bill mandates a federal
    technological solution to a problem that's best handled by local school,
    libraries, and parents," he said.
    S. 1619, sponsored by Senator John McCain (R.-Arizona), would require
    that school and public libraries install as-yet-unspecified blocking and
    filtering software on any and all public-use computers in an effort to
    shield minors from "inappropriate" material.
    Exactly what materials would be deemed inappropriate, and who would
    be in charge of making the call, has yet to be established. S. 1482,
    sponsored by Senator Dan Coats (R.-Indiana), "would punish commercial
    online distributors of material deemed harmful to minors with up to six
    months in jail and a $50,000 fine."
    Weich and other free speech advocates are concerned by the bills'
    widespread bipartisan support. Clearly many Internet users are concerned
    about the proliferation of adult sites and the ease with which minors
    can gain access to them. But the question remains: Who should decide
    what kids see, the parents or the politicians?
    In a letter delivered Tuesday to members of the United States Senate,
    a loose coalition of 13 free speech and civil liberties organizations
    including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, People for the American
    Way, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation expressed their
    joint concern over possible forthcoming legislation.
    The open letter noted that the bills were "constitutionally suspect
    and ultimately ineffective in providing...children with positive online
    But McCain insisted his bill is not about censorship.
    "This is not about dictating morals to consenting adults," said McCain
    in his Senate floor testimony on Wednesday.
    "If adults choose to view certain activities on the Web -- as long as
    those activities are not illegal -- then that is their business. This
    is about protecting our children," McCain said.
    "It is our duty, as both parents and policy makers, to ensure that when
    parents are unable to monitor their children's Internet activites,
    the schools and libraries to which we entrust their care do monitor
    such activities through the use of an effective filtering system,"
    McCain added.
    The coalition expressed concern that the filtering and blocking software
    would also regulate the availability of information on such topics as
    safe sex, gay and lesbian issues, AIDS, and women's rights, along with
    a reiteration of the Supreme Courtıs finding in Reno v. ACLU.
    In that case, the court found that since no absolute verification of
    age can be determined over the Internet, S.1482's provisions suggesting
    otherwise remain as invalid as when they first appeared as part of 1996's
    Communications Decency Act.
    Weich agrees with the coaliion's concerns, and notes that despite
    the enormous support the bills have in Congress, "there are signs that
    Senator Burns of Montana is going to offer an alternative to the School
    Filtering Bill that would require schools and libraries to have policies
    but would not mandate a particular technology."
    Exactly what that alternative may be is still unclear.
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