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Rights Groups Prepare Legal Challenge as President
Prepares to Sign Internet "Indecency" Bill


October 15, 1998

WASHINGTON -- With a second Congressional attempt to censor the Internet all but certain, the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Electronic Frontier Foundation today vowed yet another legal challenge if the measure includes criminal penalties and fines for communicating protected speech.

During last-minute budget negotiations, the Clinton Administration reportedly objected to provisions of the bill pushed by Rep. Michael Oxley, R-OH, citing a Justice Department analysis that it was probably unconstitutional and would likely draw resources away from more important law enforcement efforts. But negotiators apparently failed to strike the Oxley language from the $500 billion Omnibus Appropriations measure due to be voted on in both the House and Senate and signed by the President tomorrow.

The ACLU, with EPIC and EFF acting as co-plaintiffs and co-counsel, led the successful challenge to the Communications Decency Act, which the Supreme Court struck down last year. The groups said today that they anticipate filing a legal challenge as early as next week, on behalf of a diverse range of online speakers representing news organizations, gay and lesbian groups, artists, musicians, booksellers and any websites that distributed the Starr report.

"It's deja vu all over again," said Ann Beeson, Staff Attorney for the ACLU and a member of the Reno v. ACLU legal team that led the fight against a 1996 federal Internet law. "Just like the CDA, this bill will once again criminalize socially valuable adult speech and reduce the Internet to what is considered suitable for a six-year-old."

"Following a landmark Supreme Court ruling and constitutional objections from the Justice Department," Beeson added, "Congress can plead politics, but it can't plead ignorance."

David Sobel, EPIC's General Counsel, said, "This law violates both the free speech rights and the privacy of Internet users. It requires, in effect, that any adult wishing to receive constitutionally protected material must register with a website before receiving information."

"The Supreme Court has, on several occasions, said that such procedures violate the First Amendment," Sobel added. "We are confident that the courts will continue to protect the right of all Americans to receive information without sacrificing their privacy."

Barry Steinhardt, President of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed. "It is the height of irony that the same Congress that plastered the salacious Starr Report all over the Internet now passes a plainly unconstitutional law to suppress a vaguely defined category of "harmful" material. You would think Congress would have learned that "harmfulness" is in the eye of the beholder."

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