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Organizations Needed to Sign Letter Against Online Censorship
CYBER-LIBERTIES ALERT!!! November 2, 1995
American Civil Liberties Union
People for the American Way
ORGANIZATIONS NEEDED TO SUPPORT FREE SPEECH IN CYBERSPACE
SIGN THE LETTER BELOW TO OPPOSE FEDERAL ONLINE INDECENCY LEGISLATION!
A conference committee of House and Senate members is now meeting to
determine the future of free speech in cyberspace. As most of you know,
the House and Senate have now passed two different versions of the
telecommunications bill that would each outlaw "indecent" speech over the
Internet and other online services.
The conference committee now has the power to remove the online indecency
provisions and to respect the philosophy overwhelmingly approved by the
House in their 420-4 vote in favor of the Cox/Wyden Amendment -- online
users, not government, should determine what online content is appropriate
for themselves and their families.
Groups like the Christian Coalition are contacting the Conference Committee
to urge even stricter criminal provisions for cyberspace than those
contained in the current telecommunications provisions. Organizations
dedicated to free speech must counter that movement with a groundswell of
opposition to government control over online content.
THIS MAY BE YOUR LAST CHANCE TO STOP UNCONSTITUTIONAL RESTRICTIONS ON YOUR
RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH IN CYBERSPACE.
Please sign your organization on to the letter below. To sign on, send an
e-mail with your organization's name, address, phone number, and e-mail
People for the American Way
The deadline for signatures is MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1995, at 5 p.m.
(Due to time constraints, we regret that we are unable to accept further
revisions to the letter.)
It is also essential that the Conference Committee hear from individual
online users who are fundamentally opposed to these draconian speech crimes
for cyberspace. Be sure to watch the Net for an action alert within the
next 24 hours on how to voice your opposition to the Conferees.
LETTER FROM ORGANIZATIONS OPPOSED TO
FEDERAL ONLINE INDECENCY LEGISLATION
November ___, 1995
The Honorable Thomas J. Bliley Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Commerce
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Larry Pressler
Chairman, Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Re: Parental Empowerment and Free Expression in Cyberspace
Dear Chairmen Bliley and Pressler:
We write on behalf of a diverse coalition of non-profit civil liberties,
education, library, cultural, arts, labor and other civic organizations,
and commercial producers and distributors of entertainment, information,
journalism, and art, to express our strong belief that the Communications
Decency Act (CDA) (also known as the +Exon Amendment+), sections 401 to 408
of S. 652, is unconstitutional, unworkable and unwise. We also strongly
beleive that language added to HR 1555, (section 403) amending the federal
criminal code (the Hyde Amendment) is similarly unacceptable, because it
creates new Exon-like speech crimes, including restricting constitutionally
protected speech, mandating vicarious liability for on-line service
providers and endorsing the violatation of privacy rights of individuals.
We urge you to delete from any final telecommunications legislation any
provisions that impose a federal regulatory scheme on online content, hold
online service providers liable for the messages of their customers, censor
online communications in violation of the First Amendment, or encourage the
violation of the privacy of online users. The CDA and Hyde Amendment
contain an approach and philosophy that almost every member of the House of
Representatives has already expressly rejected in their 420-4 vote in favor
of the Online Family Empowerment provisions offered as an amendment to HR
1555 (section 104) by Representatives Cox (R-CA) and Wyden (D-OR).
The CDA would impose unenforceable and intrusive government regulation on a
newly developing forum for speech and commerce. While failing to
accomplish its intended goal of protecting children, it would unwisely
impose governmental mandates on content and effectively establish federal
standards for parenting in an online world. Similarly, the Hyde Amendment
online service providers to act as censors of constitutionally protected
speech and to invade the privacy of their users. By creating
unconstitutional standards, passage of the CDA or the Hyde Amendment merely
would assure a decade of expensive litigation and the uncertainty that
inevitably accompanies such lawsuits.
As the Conference Committee begins to consider the question of content
control in the online environment, it must not permit unconstitutional
provisions to remain in the bill. The Conferees challenge is to avoid
interfering with private sector development of effective blocking and
screening technologies that empower online users to make personal decisions
about content, to preserve the fundamental freedoms of the First Amendment,
and to protect each individual's right to keep private communications
The undersigned organizations believe that the following principles must be
adhered to in any provision that affects the emerging online environment:
THE FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS OF ALL AMERICANS MUST BE PRESERVED.
Any effort to establish federal control over constitutionally protected
speech must be opposed outright. There are alternative ways to protect
access by children to certain material without infringing on the free
speech rights of adults. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that
Congress may not impose a blanket ban on constitutionally protected speech.
Any general restriction on constitutionally protected content must not
only serve a compelling government interest but also must be implemented by
the least restrictive means available.
POLICIES MUST EMPOWER USERS -- INCLUDING PARENTS -- TO MAKE PERSONAL
DECISIONS ABOUT CONTENT.
While most Americans agree that certain material is unsuitable for
children, there certainly is no consensus about precisely what that
material might be. The right to decide what children should see and hear
is uniquely personal to the family -- government should have no role in
dictating such personal and private matters. Instead, policies should
encourage and empower
individual parents to make decisions about the kinds of content to which
their children should have access.
THERE SHOULD BE NO INCENTIVE FOR GOVERNMENT OR PRIVATE INDUSTRY TO INFRINGE
ON PRIVACY RIGHTS BY READING PRIVATE E-MAIL.
Neither online service providers nor federal regulators should be in the
business of perusing private e-mail for potentially objectionable content.
The privacy rights in e-mail that Congress recognized in its passage of the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act should not be undercut through
THE ONLINE WORLD MUST OPERATE FREE FROM INTRUSIVE AND UNENFORCEABLE
GOVERNMENT CONTENT REGULATION.
Online service providers and other sectors of the communications industry
already are taking the initiative to develop technologies to permit users
to make choices about the content to which they have access.
Governmentally imposed standards and mandates are no substitute for the
creativity of the marketplace. Users are demanding technology that will
preserve the free flow of information, while simultaneously allowing them
to make personal decisions about the content to which they or their
children have access.
The undersigned organizations believe that Congress can formulate policies
consistent with its deregulatory approach and consistent with the
Constitution. We stand ready to work with all members of the Conference
Committee to ensure that the above principles are satisfied.
[The following organizations signed on to a similar letter last summer,
before the House vote on the telecommunications bill.]
Alliance For Community Media
Alliance for Communications Democracy
American Arts Alliance
American Association of Advertising Agencies, Inc.
American Association of Law Libraries
American Association of University Professors
American Civil Liberties Union
American Communication Association
American Library Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of American Publishers
Association of Research Libraries
Center For Democracy & Technology
Chicago Computer Society
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Council of Literary Magazines and Presses
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Feminists for Free Expression
Freedom to Read Foundation
Libraries for the Future
The Literary Network
Magazine Publishers Association
Media Access Project
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
National Association of Artists Organizations
National Association of Media Arts & Culture
National Campaign for Freedom of Expression
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Federation of Community Broadcasters
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
National Public Telecomputing Network
New York City Arts Coalition
Newspaper Association of America
Society for Electronic Access
People For the American Way Action Fund
Rock Out Censorship
Theater Communications Group
Writers Guild of America, East