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Free-Speech Rights Sought On Internet Microsoft, Others To Fight Ban On Indecent Computer Items

Mon., Feb. 26, 1996

Seeking the same free-speech protection for the Internet now enjoyed by newspapers, a broad coalition including America Online and Microsoft is expected to file suit in federal court today to strike down a recent government ban on the transmission of indecent material over computer networks.

The suit by the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition will become the second major legal challenge to the Communications Decency Act, which makes illegal the display of obscene or patently offensive material to children on the Internet and other computer networks.

Earlier this month, a lawsuit filed by a separate coalition led by the American Civil Liberties Union resulted in the temporary blocking of the act, which is part of the new federal telecommunications law.

A Philadelphia federal judge said the definition of “indecency” in the act is so vague that people wouldn’t know they were breaking the law until they were arrested.

Today’s suit, which also is expected to be filed in federal court in Philadelphia, goes beyond the ACLU’s legal action by trying to persuade the court that the Internet and other computer networks are a different medium than television and radio, which are subject to government regulation on indecency, a coalition official said.

The suit will argue, in part, that computer networks are more like printed publications, which are not subject to most government indecency standards, because of the huge number of outlets and the ability of users to control what is viewed.

The suit has been organized by American Online, the American Library Association and the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. While the suit is being filed on behalf of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, many of its participants have yet to decide to support the suit as plaintiffs, according to a coalition official who did not want to be identified.

Tags: censorship

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