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House Adopts Exon-Like Speech Crimes, Also Adopts Cox/Wyden Amendment
ACLU Cyber-Liberties Alert:
House Adopts Exon-Like Speech Crimes,
Also Adopts Cox/Wyden Amendment
At 9:10 am today, the House of Representatives voted to adopt an omnibus
"Managers Amendment" to the telecommunications bill (HR 1555), which included
new Exon-like speech crimes that would censor the Internet. At 11:58 am,
the House of Representatives voted 420 to 4 to adopt the Cox/Wyden amendment
to the telco bill. The Cox/Wyden amendment, however, was not designed to --
and does not -- affect the Exon-like speech crimes provisions added to the
telco bill by the House.
Speech Crimes Provisions in Managers Amendment:
The Managers Amendment containing the new speech crimes provisions also
contained some forty other unrelated amendments. The Exon-like provisions
were not a focus of the debate, and it is likely that most members cast their
votes for reasons unrelated to these provisions.
The Managers Amendment adds an entirely new Exon-like provision to the
existing federal obscenity laws. The provision would make it a crime to
"intentionally communicate by computer ... to any person the communicator
believes has not attained the age of 18 years, any material that, in context,
depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary
community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs." (18 U.S.C.
This provision, like the Exon amendment passed by the Senate, would
effectively reduce all online content to that which is suitable only for
children. It also raises the same questions about service provider
liability that were raised by the Exon amendment.
The Managers Amendment would also make it a crime to "receive" prohibited
material "by computer," thereby subjecting both Internet users and service
providers to new prosecutions (18 U.S.C. 1462).
Assuming that the House telco bill (HR 1555) is approved (which is highly
probable by 3 pm today), both the House and Senate versions of the telco bill
will include severe attacks on cyber-liberties.
The ACLU has supported the general approach of the Cox/Wyden amendment
because it prohibits FCC regulation of content on the Internet and generally
supports private sector initiatives, not government censorship, on
cyberspace. As the ACLU has said before, there are several ambiguities and
some real problems with the Cox/Wyden amendment. The two sponsors have
committed to working with us on resolving the problems. (See previously
posted ACLU Online Analysis of the Cox/Wyden Bill.)
For the online community to take comfort in what is done in the final telco
bill in the conference committee, at a minimum the following must occur:
1. The Senate's Exon/Coats amendment (the Communications Decency Act) must
be rejected -- that is, deleted from the bill, not merely modified in some
2. The House's Exon-like speech crimes amendment must be rejected -- that
is, deleted from the bill, not merely modified in some way.
3. The ambiguities and problems in the Cox/Wyden amendment must be resolved
and then the Cox/Wyden amendment as modified should be included in the telco
The ACLU urges all those who care about free speech and personal privacy to
focus their energized efforts on all three fronts of the fight.
The ACLU will continue to fight all aspects of the cyber-censorship battle,
including the Exon-like speech crimes provisions just passed by the House,
the Exon/Coats amendment in the Senate, the Dole/Grassley anti-computer
pornography bill, the Grassley anti-electronic racketeering bill, and the
Feinstein anti-explosives information amendment to the counter-terrorism