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September 24, 1998

‘SPAWN OF CDA’ COMES BEFORE HOUSE COMMERCE COMMITTEE

By CBR Staff Writer

A bill that attempts to discourage commercial internet sites from giving children access to adult content is now before the US House of Representatives’ House Commerce Committee. Assuming the committee passes the bill, the full House will vote on whether to make it law. If the bill does become law, providers of material deemed ‘harmful to minors’ will face a $50,000 fine or six months in jail. With Senator Dan Coats’ parallel Act now making its way through the US Senate, Rep Mike Oxley’s Child Online Protection Act has been dubbed by its opponents the ‘spawn’ of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The CDA was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court last year. Some legal experts say the Act is more precisely framed and might pass the free speech test (CI No 3,499). The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) couldn’t disagree more. According to them, Mike Oxley’s bill contains many of the same constitutional defects that marred the CDA. Lawmakers continue to ignore the technological realities and constitutional problems with these bills, said Ronald Weich, a lawyer for the ACLU, in a statement. Congress continues to treat the topic of internet censorship as a free political ride. To protest the passage of the bills, the EFF and the ACLU have joined with other critics of net content control, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the First Amendment Project and the Society of Professional Journalists, to form the Internet Free Expression Alliance (http://www.ifea.net/).

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