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Internet Censors Close to Success: Act Now

 By Howard Rheingold
 syndicated by King Features
 electronic rights: Howard Rheingold
 Permission granted to redistribute this column (Internet Censors Close
to Success) freely.

      The religious right is only weeks away from final victory in its
battle to shut American citizens out of the Internet as a medium for
uncensored communication.

The story so far: The censorship drive began in February, 1995, with the
introduction of S.314, "The Computer Decency Act of 1995" (CDA), by
Senator Jim Exon (D-NE), as part of the much larger telecommunications
deregulation bill, S 652. Senator Leahy (D-VT) countered CDA with "The
Family Empowerment Act," which mandates investigation of technical means
for parents to determine what comes into their homes and schools for
their children to see, according to their own family's values. CDA passed
the Senate on June 14; Leahy's amendment lost. On June 21, opposition to
the Exon amendment was voiced even among prominent Republicans, including
Representative Gingrich (R-GA).
         Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA), and Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the
"Internet Freedom and Family  Empowerment Act" (HR 1978), offering an
approach that would empower parents, rather than the State, to make
decisions about what is considered decent in every household.
         The time has come for Congress to choose between competing
amendments. Whether our representatives ultimately go down the road to
censorship advocated by the Exon amendment, or choose the parental
empowerment approach advocated by the Cox-Wyden amendment, depends on the
outcome of the battle for public opinion. In the final weeks of 1995, the
campaigns for and against the CDA are approaching the decisive moment.
Unless many people who favor freedom of expression make telephone calls,
write letters, send faxes, right now, as the pro-censorship forces
 certainly are doing, the censors are going to win.
         An extremist minority is pressing for final legislation that is
even more restrictive than the Exon bill. This faction, now openly led by
the religious right, seeks to use criminal and civil penalties to hold
all Americans' online conversations, web pages, public archives to a
rigidly defined standard for decency of content. The bill's zealous
backers make it clear that their interpretation of decency in the new
medium is far more strict than those standards upheld by the Supreme
Court in regard to other forms of speech. Discourse on the Net will be
restricted to that which is judged suitable for young children in strict
households. The liability issues, if upheld, will mean the death of the
online services industry, which has been growing explosively. America
will hand off yet another native industry to global competitors. Until
and unless the Supreme Court decides that the legislation is
unconstitutional, the decency cops, with the full power of the law, will
have their day.
         In October, 1995, Commerce committee chairman Larry Pressler
received a letter signed by The Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed, Eagle
Forum's Phyllis Schafly, the Reverends Donald Wildmon and Louis Sheldon
 of the American Family Association and Traditional Values Coalition, and
former Attorney General Edwin Meese, that threw the weight of the top
organizations of the religious right behind legislation that would
establish a Federal decency police and shut down the emerging online
 communications industry by making online service providers criminally
liable for the activities of their customers. The battle of the CDA is
part of the sweeping telecommunications deregulation bill (S 652), now
approaching the final stages of Congressional decision-making.
         Call or fax Newt Gingrich's office (1-202-225-4501 voice;
1-202-225-4656 fax), and cc Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) (1-202-224-6521
voice;  1-202-228-1245 fax).Tell them you favor the parental control
tools proposed in the Cox-White-Wyden amendment to the chilling and
unnecessary Exon amendment. Tell them that you, not the Federal
government, are the proper authority to decide what is decent in your
For more information, check web sites http://www.vtw.org/exon/ and URL:http://www.cdt.org/cda.html . Gopher archives: gopher://gopher.eff.org/11/Alerts. Via e-mail, send a message to vtw@vtw.org (put "send alert" in the subject line for the latest alert,



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