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ACLU to Seek Order Against Indecency Provisions of Telcom Bill

Lawsuit Challenging Internet Indecency' Provisions
To be Filed As Soon As Clinton Signs Legislation

Wednesday, February 7, 1996

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Saying that its chilling effects would be immediately felt throughout the online world, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced plans to seek a temporary restraining order against the "indecency" provisions of the telecommunications legislation immediately after President Clinton approves the measure on Thursday.

In court papers that will be filed in federal District Court in Philadelphia, the ACLU will argue that provisions of the Communications Decency Act of the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 are unconstitutional because they would criminalize expression that is protected by the First Amendment. The legislation would also violate constitutional rights to privacy because it would criminalize certain private e-mail correspondence between individuals.

"Nothing less than the future of free expression in the United States is at stake here," said Ira Glasser, ACLU Executive Director. "By passing this legislation, Congress has misunderstood a promising new medium and has, once again, turned its back on the First Amendment."

Acting on behalf of 20 individuals and organizations that provide information via the Internet -- including itself -- the ACLU said today that it was moving quickly because it feared that the telecommunications legislation would have an immediate impact on the Internet. In addition to the ACLU, plaintiffs in the case include the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Human Rights Watch; the Institute for Global Communications; the journalist Brock Meeks; the National Writers Union; the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Critical Path AIDS Project.

Several plaintiffs, including the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, are also seeking relief from the electronic "gag rule" version of the Comstock Law. The turn-of-the-century law, still on the books today in slightly modified form, penalizes anyone who uses the U.S. mails, telephone/fax lines -- and now, the Internet -- to receive or disseminate information on how to obtain or provide an abortion. Penalties include up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 for a first offense, increased by Congress in 1994 from $5,000.

Following are other examples of communications that will subject the plaintiffs to fines, imprisonment and censorship once President Clinton signs the bill:

-- ACLU: a Web site and America Online forum containing ACLU court briefs in cases involving obscenity, arts censorship and discrimination against gays and lesbians and information on how women can obtain abortions or abortifacient drugs.

-- Biblio Bytes: Produces electronic books for sale via credit card over the World Wide Web, including romance novels, erotica, classics, adventure, and horror stories, some of which contain sexually explicit or vulgar language.

-- Critical Path AIDS Project: a Web site providing AIDS prevention and treatment information, which reaches youths and adults at risk for AIDS in some of the most underserved communities in the nation.

-- Human Rights Watch: a gopher site with resources including a July, 1995 report on slavery in Pakistan detailing tortures such as beating of the genitals and rape that are used to intimidate bonded laborers.

-- Institute for Global Communications: a Web site that serves 400 nonprofit groups, including SIECUS (the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States), the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Stop Prisoner Rape, Human Rights Watch, Pacifica Radio, numerous women's rights groups, as well as approximately 500-600 schools.

-- Journalism Education Association: The largest national organization of high school journalism teachers and publication advisors of high school journalism, JEA members assist students in conducting online research on a wide variety of issues.

-- Planned Parenthood Federation of America: a Web site that provides information on abortions, abortifacient drugs, and safer sex practices.

-- WildCat Press: an independent publishing company specializing in classic gay and lesbian literature that promotes its publications by providing free excerpts through a World Wide Web site.

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