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ACLU Trial Update 4/1/96


Monday, April 1, 1996

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- You can't put a price on free speech in cyberspace, ACLU
Associate Director Barry Steinhardt told a three-judge panel in the final day
of plaintiff testimony in the group's legal challenge to Internet censorship.
And if you did, Steinhardt said, the ACLU probably could not afford it.

Technical and economic problems with implementing the censorship law may even
cause the ACLU to shut down its website, Steinhardt testified.  He cited cost
estimates of $144,000 per month to register users on the ACLU website, based
on its first month of activity in which at least 67,000 persons visited the

Steinhardt also described online features created by the ACLU that he
expected would be subject to censure under the new law, including a quiz in
which users are asked to guess the "seven dirty words" banned by the Federal
Communications Commission on radio broadcasts.  The feature includes the text
of F.C.C. v. Pacifica, the Supreme Court decision containing those words. 

"What we or others display on our Internet and America Online sites is
precisely the language which the F.C.C.called indecent in censoring Pacifica
Radio," Steinhardt said.  "But we cannot discuss important civil liberties
issues that involve censorship without using the words that are being

Steinhardt was the last witness of the day in the consolidated cases of ACLU
v. Reno and American Library Association v. U.S. Department of Justice,
challenging  provisions of the law that criminalize making available to
minors "indecent" or "patently offensive" speech.

"Today's testimony helped to illustrate that there is no practical way for
content providers, including the ACLU, to screen out so-called indecency
without preventing adults from accessing valuable, constitutionally protected
material," said Chris Hansen, lead counsel for the ACLU.    

Also testifying on behalf of the ACLU was Howard Rheingold, author and expert
on cyberspace communities, who told the judges of his concern about the
difficulty of defining a "community standard" for a worldwide network.   The
"contemporary community standards" he applies in his own home, Rheingold
told the judges, may be different from that of his neighbor down the street.

Another witness for the ACLU was plaintiff Stephen Donaldson, president of
Stop Prisoner Rape.  Donaldson said that he feared the "street language" and
graphic depictions of prison rape presenting on his web site would subject
him to prosecution and fines.

As on the first two days of testimony, lawyers from the U.S. Department of
Justice cross-examined witnesses whose direct testimony was submitted by
affidavit, according to procedures laid out by the judges.  The judges also
questioned the witnesses from the bench, and ACLU and ALA coalition lawyers
were given an opportunity to redirect, i.e., question their clients in
response to the government's cross-examination.

Witnesses for the ACLU and ALA coalitions appeared in the following order:

1. Bill Burrington, assistant general counsel and director of public policy,
   America Online.
2. Stephen Donaldson, president, Stop Prisoner Rape.
3. Andrew Anker, president and CEO, HotWired.
4. Howard Rheingold, author and expert on cyberspace communities.
5. Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director, American Civil Liberties Union

The next two days of testimony are set for Friday, April 12 and Monday, April
15, when government lawyers will begin to present their case.  A list of
government witnesses will be announced on April 3 and 4. 

Lawyers for the ACLU and ALA will have an opportunity to present witnesses
rebutting the government's testimony on April 26.   In addition, the court
today scheduled final arguments by plaintiff and defense attorneys for
Monday, June 3.  The judges will issue a ruling in the days or weeks
following.   Under expedited provisions, any appeal on rulings regarding the
new censorship law will be made directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the ACLU appearing before the judges are Christoper Hansen, lead
counsel, Marjorie Heins, Ann Beeson, and Stefan Presser, legal director of
the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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