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CIVIL LIBERTIES GROUPS FILE COURT CHALLENGE TO CDA II.

As promised (CI No 3,523), a coalition of civil liberties groups has mounted a legal challenge to the Child Online Protection Act, claiming that the law censors free speech on the internet. The groups point out that President Clinton signed the act in defiance of Justice Department warnings that it is unconsitutional. Seventeen plaintiffs have filed papers with the federal district court in Philadelphia seeking an injunction against the law, which is scheduled to take effect 30 days from when it was signed. The prime movers behind the suit are the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Founation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The three last joined in February 1996 to mount a challenge to the Communications Decency Act. The same district court struck down the CDA. The district court's decision was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court in its landmark Reno v. ACLU finding in 1997. The groups hope to repeat that success with the law which has been dubbed "CDA II". The Child Online Protection Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly communicate material deemed harmful to minors. Penalties include $50,000 per day fines and in the case of a conviction, up to six months in prison. Those who framed the law say it is narrowly tailored to apply only to minors, but ACLU staff attorney Ann Beeson argues that it bears the same constitutional flaws that led the Supreme Court to overturn the CDA. "Whether you call it the 'Communications Decency Act' or the 'Congress Doesn't Understand the Internet Act', it is still unconstitutional and it still reduces the internet to what is fit for a six-year-old," said Beeson. Supporters of the law point out that it only applies to commercial sites. Opponents retort that harmful material is just as likely to be found on non-commercial sites. Even if this were not the case, minors would still be able to access newsgroups or internet relay chat channels, while material published outside the USA is immune to prosecution under US law. Among the plaintiffs are gay and lesbian bookstore A Different Light; the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; Condomania; Free Speech Media LLC; PlanetOut Corp; Salon Magazine and the Internet Content Coalition, which numbers among its members CBS New Media, Time I nc, The New York Times Electronic Media Company, CNet, Warner Bros Online, MSNBC, Playboy Enterprises, Sony Online and ZDNet.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Nov 18, 1998
Words:399
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