Last modified: June 13, 1996 11:30 AM PDT
CDA rejected in landmark ruling
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"Are the contemporary community standards to be applied those of the vast world of cyberspace, in accordance with the act's apparent intent to establish a uniform national standard of content regulation? The government offered no evidence of any such national standard or nationwide consensus as to what would be considered patently offensive," U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter wrote in his opinion.
Less than two weeks after the original ACLU suit was filed, more than 35 companies and organizations that might be directly affected by the law and perhaps prosecuted under it if it stands joined together to form the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition and filed a separate suit designed to overturn the CDA. The coalition was led by the American Library Association, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the commercial online services, as well as software industry heavyweight Microsoft. The second suit was almost immediately consolidated with the ACLU case, and the legal team from the American Library Association joined with ACLU lawyers to prepare the arguments.
The Justice Department would later argue that such technologies provide "safe harbor" for individuals or businesses that might be subject to prosecution under the law, but the court rejected this argument in today's ruling.
"The CDA will, without doubt, undermine the substantive, speech-enhancing benefits that have flowed from the Internet," Dalzell wrote. "The diversity of the content will necessarily diminish as a result...Many Web sites, newsgroups, and chat rooms will shut down, since users cannot discern the age of other participants."
But while the decision clearly rejected the current language of the CDA, the court nonetheless made it clear that the Internet is still subject to existing obscenity and child pornography laws. In addition, Buckwalter noted that other statutory regulations on the Internet could possibly stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
"I believe it is too early in the development of this new medium to conclude that other attempts to regulate protected speech within the medium will fail a challenge," Buckwalter wrote. "That is to say that I specifically do not find that any and all statutory regulation of protected speech on the Internet could not survive constitutional scrutiny."