Skip to main content
Podcast Episode: Fighting Enshittification

EFFector - Volume 10, Issue 6 - Supreme Court Unanimously Strikes Down CDA


EFFector - Volume 10, Issue 6 - Supreme Court Unanimously Strikes Down CDA

    ________________          _______________        _______________
   /_______________/\        /_______________\      /\______________\
   \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\/        |||||||||||||||||     / ////////////////
    \\\\\________/\          |||||________\       / /////______\
     \\\\\\\\\\\\\/____      ||||||||||||||      / /////////////
      \\\\\___________/\     |||||              / ////
       \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\/     |||||              \////   e  c  t  o  r
EFFector        Vol. 10, No. 06       June 26, 1997
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation        ISSN 1062-9424


Supreme Court Unanimously Strikes Down CDA
Upcoming Events
Quote of the Day
What YOU Can Do

 * See for more information
   on current EFF activities and online activism alerts! *


Subject: Supreme Court Unanimously Strikes Down CDA

This is not just a victory for the Internet -- it's a victory for all
Americans, everywhere. The Court has reaffirmed that we can be trusted to
make our own content choices for ourselves and for our children, and that
speech on the Internet should be no less restricted than speech in the New
York Times or the Boston Globe. To quote Alexander Meiklejohn's comment
more than 30 years ago about a different but equally important First
Amendment decision (New York Times Inc. v. Sullivan), the Court's ruling
today is "an occasion for dancing in the streets."

Press Release                                               June 26, 1997 

Electronic Frontier Foundation Statement:
Supreme Court Victory for Free Speech: CDA Ruled Unconstitutional

Contacts:	Mike Godwin, Staff Counsel, +1 415 436 9333 or 1 510 548 3290
		Stanton McCandlish, Program Director, +1 415 436 9333
		Shari Steele, Staff Counsel, +1 301 375 8856

Washington, DC -- "As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence
of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the
content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of
ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of
expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven
benefit of censorship."

With this ringing reaffirmation of the American people's fundamental right
to freedom of expression, the United States Supreme Court ruled Thursday
that the Communications Decency Amendment censorship provisions of the
Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 regarding so-called "indecent"
content are unconstitutional on their face, and that free speech on the
Internet merits the highest standards of Constitutional protection.  The
decision marks a major victory in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's
ongoing efforts to ensure that the long-standing American principles of
freedom of expression be preserved and extended to the Internet.

The extremely broad reach that the CDA would have had was reflected in the
range of plaintiffs who joined together to challenge the law. The EFF was
a leading party in a coalition comprising such diverse organizations as
Apple, Microsoft, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic
Privacy Information Center, Barnes & Noble, and journalists such as Brock
Meeks, in challenging the Communications Decency Amendment (CDA) which
would have banned a broad range of First Amendment-protected speech from
the public spaces of the Internet. These groups are united today in
celebration of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a law that
would have criminalized this constitutionally protected speech on the
Internet and other online forums.

The Court's ruling in Reno v. ACLU affirmed the unanimous decisions of
Philadelphia and New York federal courts, rejecting the controversial
"decency" amendment to the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 as an
unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The Court's opinion
firmly establishes that the Constitution's guarantees of freedom of speech
and of the press apply on the Internet.

Members of the technology and publishing industries, as well as civil
liberties watchdog groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the
ACLU, hailed the Court's decision as a victory for everyone who uses
computer communications. "Today marks a victory for all Americans, and we
think it's appropriate for everyone to celebrate the Court's recognition of
the free-speech significance of the Internet," said Lori Fena, executive
director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "What this means is that
the responsibility for controlling our content lies on us -- the citizens
and the parents -- and this is a call for all of us once again to
demonstrate how we can trusted to use this medium responsibly," she said.
"This means that the parents, rather than the government, are empowered to
make the choices about Internet content."

Mike Godwin, EFF staff counsel, stated, "The CDA would have abridged one
of the freedoms that Americans treasure most, and a freedom that is
central to any democratic society. The Supreme Court recognized, as had
the District Court, that this law was a wholly inappropriate exercise of
governmental power under the Constitution."

Esther Dyson, EFF chairman, noted that the decision stands for one of
EFF's principal positions regarding free speech online: "We believe in
free speech at the source -- and in the empowerment of any audience for
that speech to control what they see and hear.

"The Court's decision takes the responsibility for controlling and
accessing speech on the Net out of the hands of government and puts it
back where it belongs: in the hands of parents and other individuals," she
said. "Individuals have the technical means to make their own choices
about what they and their children read and see," Dyson noted.

EFF has long noted that such low-cost technical solutions, together with
existing anti-obscenity laws, offer a less intrusive and more efficient
answer to questions about protecting children in the online world.

"The government kept saying that this was a crisis that required harsher
censorship in the online world than in any other communication medium,"
Godwin said. "In fact, EFF and the other plaintiffs in this case showed
that it's possible to promote both freedom of speech and family values --
that the two goals don't oppose each other. By its decision today, the
Court expressly acknowledged that reality."

The constitutional challenge to the Communications Decency Act was grounded
in a series of basic arguments, including that law is unconstitutionally
overbroad (criminalizing protected speech), and that it it is
unconstitutionally vague (making it difficult for individuals and
organizations to comply).

The Court also reaffirmed the lower court's findings a) that the character
of this new medium means that any attempt at content regulation for the
Internet must meet the strictest Constitutional requirements under the
First Amendment, and b) that filtering technologies provided a less
restrictive means to achieve Congress's stated goal of protecting

"We applaud today's Supreme Court decision declaring the CDA
unconstitutional,"  said Michael Sears, vice president and general manager
of SurfWatch Software, a division of Spyglass Inc.  "After our testimony
in Philadelphia last year, I believe that we convinced the court that
parental control software like SurfWatch is a much more effective and less
restrictive solution than excessive government regulation." 

Referring to the Court's four-decade-old anti-censorship decision in
Butler v. Michigan, the Supreme Court stated the speech restriction at
issue there amounted to "burn[ing] the house to roast the pig." In his
opinion for the Court, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that
"[t]he CDA, casting a far darker shadow over free speech, threatens to
torch a large segment of the Internet community." 


Subject: Upcoming Events

This schedule lists EFF events, and those we feel might be of interest to
our members.  EFF events (those sponsored by us or featuring an EFF speaker)
are marked with a "*" instead of a "-" after the date.  Simlarly, government
events (such as deadlines for comments on reports or testimony submission,
or conferences at which government representatives are speaking) are marked
with "!" in place of the "-" ("!?" means a govt. speaker may appear, but
we don't know for certain yet.)  And likewise, "+" in place of "-"
indicates a non-USA event.  If it's a foreign EFF event with govt. people,
it'll be "*!+" instead of "-".  You get the idea. To let us know about an
event, please send details to Dennis Derryberry,, with a
subject line containing "CALENDAR:" followed by the name of the event.

The latest version of the full EFF calendar is available from:

ftp:, /pub/EFF/calendar.eff
gopher:, 1/EFF, calendar.eff

See also our new Now-Up-to-Date HTML calendar at:


July 13-
     17 - ACUTA 26th Annual Conference; Atlanta, Georgia.
          Contact: +1 606 278 3338 (voice)

Aug. 24 + NAGOYA, JAPAN - IJCAI-97 Workshop on AI in Digital Libraries: 
	  Moving From Chaos to (More) Order; Nagoya Congress Center, 
	  Nagoya, Japan;

Sep. 7 -
     11 + LANCASTER, UK - ECSCW'97, the Fifth European Conference on 
	  Computer Supported Cooperative Work; deadline for paper 
	  submissions is January 13, 1997; papers must contain an abstract 
	  of not more than 100 words and not exceed 16 pages in length; full 
	  formatting instructions are available from
	  for more information:
	  snail mail: ECSCW'97 Conference Office
		      Computing Department
		      Lancaster University
		      Lancaster  LA1 4YR  UK

Sep. 12-
     14   SAN DIEGO - Association of Online Professionals Annual 
	  Conference; sysop trade association's yearly gathering to 
	  discuss issues of relevance to the industry

Sep. 25-
     27 + PRAGUE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA - RUFIS'97: Role of Universities in the
          Future Information Society; Czech Technical University, Prague,
          Czechoslovakia; to obtain a registration form, please, send an
          empty e-mail message to:

          Karel Kveton
          UNESCO International Centre for Scientific Computing
          Czech Technical University - Prague
          Computing Centre
          Zikova 4, 166 35 Prague 6
          Phone: + 42 2 2431 0369, fax: + 42 2 311 7529

Oct. 7-
     10 + BEIJING, CHINA - '97 China Database: Electronic Publications 
	  & Software Exhibition; Beijing International Convention Center
	  Contact: Mr. Cheng Bin and Ms. Hu Yongning
	  Beijing Evertrust Exposition Co. Ltd.
	  15 Fuxing Road, Beijing, China
	  Post code: 100038
	  Tel: +86-10-68514007
	  Fax: +86-10-68537092
	  URL: http: // cn/Exhibition/ invi.htm

Oct. 28-
     31 - EDUCOM '97; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
          Contact: +1 202 872 4200 (voice)

Dec. 1  - Computer Security Day (started by Washington DC chapter of the
          Assoc. for Computing Machinery, to "draw attention to computer
          security during the holdiay season when it might otherwise become


July 12-
     16 - ACUTA 27th Annual Conference; San Diego, California.
          Contact: +1 606 278 3338 (voice)

Oct. 13-
     16 - EDUCOM '98; Orlando, Florida.
          Contact: +1 202 872 4200 (voice)

Dec. 1  - Computer Security Day (started by Washington DC chapter of the
          Assoc. for Computing Machinery, to "draw attention to computer
          security during the holdiay season when it might otherwise become


Subject: Quote of the Day

"The State insists that, by thus quarantining the general reading public
against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield
juvenile innocence, it is exercising its power to promote the general
welfare. Surely this is to burn the house to roast the pig...The incidence
of this enactment is to reduce the adult population of Michigan to
reading only what is fit for children."
  - US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, _Butler_v._Michigan_, 352
    U.S. 380, 383 (1957)

Find yourself wondering if your privacy and freedom of speech are safe 
when bills to censor the Internet are swimming about in a sea of of 
surveillance legislation and anti-terrorism hysteria?  Worried that in 
the rush to make us secure from ourselves that our government 
representatives may deprive us of our essential civil liberties? 
Concerned that legislative efforts nominally to "protect children" will 
actually censor all communications down to only content suitable for 
the playground?  Alarmed by commercial and religious organizations abusing
the judicial and legislative processes to stifle satire, dissent and 

Join EFF! (or send any message to

You *know* privacy, freedom of speech and ability to make your voice heard
in government are important. You have probably participated in our online
campaigns and forums.  Have you become a member of EFF yet?  The best way
to protect your online rights is to be fully informed and to make your
opinions heard.  EFF members are informed and are making a difference.
Join EFF today!

Even if you don't live in the U.S., the anti-Internet hysteria will soon 
be visiting a legislative body near you.  If it hasn't already.


Subject: What YOU Can Do

* Keep an eye on your local legislature/parliament!
All kinds of wacky censorious legislation is turning up at the US state 
and non-US national levels.  Don't let it sneak by you - or by the 
online activism community. Without locals on the look out, it's very 
difficult for the Net civil liberties community to keep track of what's 
happening locally as well as globally.

* Inform your corporate government affairs person or staff counsel
if you have one. Keep them up to speed on developments you learn of,
and let your company's management know if you spot an issue that warrants
your company's involvement.

* Find out who your legislators are

Writing letters to, faxing, and phoning your representatives in Congress
is one very important strategy of activism, and an essential way of
making sure YOUR voice is heard on vital issues.

If you are having difficulty determining who your US legislators are,
try contacting your local League of Women Voters, who maintain a great 
deal of legislator information, or consult the free ZIPPER service
that matches ZIP Codes to Congressional districts with about 85%
accuracy at:
This can be double-checked with the House's own lookup service, at:

Computer Currents Interactive has provided Congress contact info, sorted 
by who voted for and against the Communications Decency Act: (NB: Some of these folks have, 
fortunately, been voted out of office.)

We are not presently aware of servers that provide contact info for US
state-level legislators, or non-US lawmakers.



EFFector is published by:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation
1550 Bryant St., Suite 725
San Francisco CA 94103 USA
+1 415 436 9333 (voice)
+1 415 436 9993 (fax)
Membership & donations:
Legal services:
General EFF, legal, policy or online resources queries:

Editor: Stanton McCandlish, Program Director/Webmaster (

This newsletter is printed on 100% recycled electrons.

Reproduction of this publication in electronic media is encouraged.  Signed
articles do not necessarily represent the views of EFF.  To reproduce
signed articles individually, please contact the authors for their express
permission. Press releases and EFF announcements may be reproduced individ-
ually at will.

To subscribe to EFFector via email, send message body of "subscribe
effector-online" (without the "quotes") to, which will add
you to a subscription list for EFFector.

Back issues are available at:, /pub/EFF/Newsletters/EFFector/

To get the latest issue, send any message to (or, and it will be mailed to you automagically.  You can also get
the file "current" from the EFFector directory at the above sites at any 
time for a copy of the current issue.  


End of EFFector Online v10 #06 Digest


Back to top

JavaScript license information