Masthead CMC Magazine / March 1, 1996
Blue Ribbon Protest  The Dimming of the Web, by John December

The Three Major Flaws of the Communications Decency Act

First, I've no doubt that the Communications Decency Act will be found to be unconstitutional. The problem is vague wording. Present laws prohibit the distribution of "obscene" material (and the U.S. Supreme court has defined what is obscene), but the slipperyness of the word "indecent" will cause problems. Under the Act, any speech--even in private email messages--which could be viewed as "indecent" would be outlawed. Any Web page containing material that some groups find objectionable and could argue is indecent would be outlawed. This could eliminate some abortion information, religious or political rantings, or anything that can be argued to be "indecent" from the Net. This kind of vague terminology undermines against First Amendment rights.

Second, I've no doubt that the U.S. Communications Decency Act is unenforcible. The amount of speech and activities on the Net would overwhelm even the most zealous organization charged with ferreting out all that is "indecent." Moreover, the use of encryption, anonymous re-mailers, and all sorts of tricks makes finding all instances--let alone the perpetrators--of "indecent" material an impossible task. And who would accomplish this monitoring of all communications? Only a Draconian online police presence might be able to pull it off (which would give rise to particularly virulent new forms of protest online). There's simply no way that the Communications Decency Act could be enforced; and, ironically, its passage is fueling even more "indecent" material prepared specifically in protest of it.

Third, in its wording and intent, this legislation is amazingly stupid when it comes to the question of jurisdiction. The United States is not the only territory in which "indecent" material could originate. Users of any Net access point in the U.S. can access overseas sites containing massive amounts of information and communication which could be termed indecent. Can U.S. law squash these international information providers? Clearly not--unless the U.S. declares some sort of "international Net boundary" and sovereignty in Net matters world wide. So as long as users of the Net in the U.S. can access overseas sites, the Communications Decency Act is moot. In fact, a new growth industry might be Web servers on remote islands outside the jurisdiction of U.S. (or other national) laws. --

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