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EFFector - Volume 9, Issue 8 - Federal Court Rules Communications Decency Act Unconstitutional


EFFector - Volume 9, Issue 8 - Federal Court Rules Communications Decency Act Unconstitutional

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EFFector Online Volume 09 No. 08       June 12 1996
A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation        ISSN 1062-9424


Federal Court Rules Communications Decency Act Unconstitutional
 Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Forum, July 1 (Stanford)
Upcoming Events
Quote of the Day
What YOU Can Do

* See or, /pub/Alerts/ for more
information on current EFF activities and online activism alerts! *


Subject: Federal Court Rules Communications Decency Act Unconstitutional

Groups challenging the law prepare for government appeal to the Supreme Court

Electronic Frontier Foundation              
PRESS RELEASE                                       

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

Philadelphia -- "Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the
strength of our liberty depends upon the chaos and cacophony of the
unfettered speech the First Amendment protects."

With these ringing words, a Philadelphia federal court has struck down a law
today that would have criminalized constitutionally protected speech on the
Internet and other online forums.

In what civil libertarians are hailing as a victory for everyone who uses 
computer communications, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia's federal 
court ruled in a unanimous decision that the controversial 
"Communications Decency Act" (CDA) violates the U.S. constitutional 
guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.

"First of all, we are pleased to see the court vindicate our vision of 
the Net as a medium protected by the First Amendment," said Lori Fena, 
executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a watchdog 
group established to protect civil liberties, and promote responsibility, in
computer communications. "Secondly, we are delighted that the court has gone
beyond striking down the law, and has stated positively what constitutional
principles must govern any attempt to regulate the most democratic mass
medium the world has ever seen." 

Said EFF Chairman Esther Dyson: "This is a day for individual citizens, for
families, and for public and private organizations online to celebrate." 

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

Godwin applauded the members of the coalition that challenged the law in
federal court. "We and the other plaintiffs persuaded them that the
government cannot constitutionally impose this sort of overreaching, and
duplicative regulation of content in the online world," Godwin said.

Dyson stated 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.

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

Godwin noted that existing anti-obscenity laws, together with low-cost
technological solutions, offer a more efficient, less intrusive 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 communications medium,"
Godwin said. "In fact, we showed that it's possible to promote both freedom
of speech and family values -- that the two goals don't oppose each other."

While the plaintiffs  are pleased with the victory, Fena said, "it's no time
to be complacent." A collection of poorly drafted state laws has followed in
the wake of the passage of the CDA, and the issues these statutes raise must
be addressed as well, she said. 

"What's as compelling as the language of this decision," Godwin said, "is the
breadth of the opposition to this legislation," He noted that two large
groups of plaintiffs, including EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the
Electronic Privacy Information Center, People for the American Way, the
American Library Association, Microsoft, and Apple Computer, had challenged
the recently passed law in Philadelphia's federal court. Even Administration
officials have privately and publicly voiced their concerns. The plaintiffs
must now prepare for the government's planned appeal to the United States
Supreme Court, Godwin said, citing a provision of the Telecommunications
Reform Act of 1996, which prescribes such a direct appeal when a provision of
the telecom act is found unconstitutional in a lower court..

Godwin also commented that "this may be the most rapidly distributed federal
court opinion in American history." Sites all over the over the Net would be
carrying the full text of the opinion almost as soon as the judges hand it
down, he said, noting that the court is providing copies of the opinion on
computer diskettes as well as through more traditional means.

The constitutional challenge to the Communications Decency Act has been
grounded in four basic arguments -- that the law is unconstitutionally
overbroad (criminalizing protected speech), that it is unconstitutionally
vague (making it difficult for individuals and organizations to comply),
that it fails what the judiciary calls the "least restrictive means" test for
speech regulation, and that there is no basic constitutional authority under
the First Amendment to engage in this type of content regulation in any
nonbroadcast medium.

"We are confident the Supreme Court will uphold the Philadelphia court's
decision," Godwin said.

To reach EFF board chairman Esther Dyson or executive director Lori Fena, 
please contact EFF's main office at +1 415 436 9333.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation
1550 Bryant St., Suite 725
San Francisco CA 94103 USA
+1 415 436 9333 (voice)
+1 415 436 9993 (fax)


Subject: NewsNybbles

* Security and Freedom through Encryption (SAFE) Forum, July 1 (Stanford)

         Security and Freedom Through Encryption Forum
                        July 1, 1996
                    Stanford, California

Making the Case for a Pro-Commerce, Pro-Privacy National Encryption Policy 

A National Public Education Campaign

The Message 
       Current U.S. export controls and other limits on encryption are 
       stifling electronic commerce on the Internet, preventing computer 
       users from protecting their privacy, and handicapping U.S. 
       industry in the global marketplace. Congress must eliminate 
       barriers to electronic commerce by removing these Cold
       War-era regulations of vital information technology. 
The Goal 
       Further encourage policy makers to relax export controls, by 
       raising public awareness of encryption's importance to U.S. 
       competitiveness, individual privacy, the economic future of the 
       computer industry, and ultimately jobs in America. 
The Event 
       The Security and Freedom Through Encryption (SAFE) Forum in 
       Northern California, hosted by Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) 
       and Tom Campbell (R-CA), with members of Congress,
       prominent industry leaders, and computer security experts. 

       Location: Kresge Auditorium at Stanford University, 
                 Stanford, California 
       Date: July 1, 1996 
       Audience: National and local press, California 
                 constituents, members of Congress. 
       Published proceedings in book form (MIT Press proposal pending). 

Simultaneous smaller events will be held by local organizers in cities 
across the nation. 

Event will include panel discussions, keynote presentations, and a 
technology demonstration.

Speakers and sponsors still needed - contact Daniel Weitzner or Alan 
Davidson at the Center for Democracy and Technology, +1 (202) 637-9800. 

Please register and get a ticket reserved ASAP. There is only room for 
500 to attend.  To register or get more info, see the event web site at:


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.

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:

June 15 - Open discussion of the lack of computer industry philanthropy.
          $10 dollar donation includes dinner and drinks. ($5-children); 
          4pm - midnight, Fred and Sylvia's CyberSalon West, 630 San 
          Miguel Way, Berkeley, CA.
          Contact: +1 510 526 5555

June 16-
     20 - Society and the Future of Computing; Snowbird, UT.

June 17-
     18 - Practicing Law Institute's 16th Annual Institute on Computer
          Law: Understanding the Business and Legal Aspects of the Internet;
          San Francisco, CA
          Contact: +1 800 477 0300

June 17-
     18 * Venture Market Europe - presentation and discussion of private
          technology company CEOs' international business plans and ideas;
          London, England.  Speakers will include EFF Board of Directors
          Chairperson, Esther Dyson.
          Contact: +1 415 865 2277 x210 (voice), +1 415 865 0453 (fax)

June 17-
     22 - World Conference on Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia,
          ED-MEDIA 96; Boston, MA. Submission deadline: Oct. 20, 1995.
          Contact: +1 804 973 3987
          Fax: +1 804 978 7449

June 21-
     22 - ISTAS 96, International Symposium on Technology and Society;
          Princeton Univeristy, Princeton, NJ. Abstract submission
          deadline: Dec. 15, 1995.
          Fax: +1 609 258 1985

June 21-
     22 - "Personal Information - Security, Engineering and Ethics,"
          sponsored by the Britsish Medical Association; Isaac Newton
          Institute, Cambridge, MA. Deadline for submissions: May 10.
          Contact: Dr. Ross Anderson, Isaac Newton Institute, 20 Clarkson
          Road, Cambridge CB3 0EH, England

June 24-
     26 + Australasian Conference on Information Security and Privacy;
          New South Wales, Australia.

June 25-
     28 + INET 96, The 6th Annual Conference of the Internet Society: "The
          Internet: Transforming Our Society Now"; Montreal Canada. Deadline
          for abstracts: Jan. 15.
          Contact: Carol Gray, International Secretariat
                   12020 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 210
                   Reston, VA 22091
          Voice: +1 703 648 9888
          Fax: +1 703 648 9887

June 26-
     28 - MIT seminar, "Converging Networks: Business and the
          Telecommunications Act of 1996."


Subject: Quote of the Day

"We are in danger of getting government by the clueless, over a place
they've never been, using means they don't possess"
  - John Perry Barlow, EFF co-founder, 1995

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

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

* The Communications Decency Act & Other Censorship Legislation

The Communications Decency Act and similar legislation pose serious 
threats to freedom of expression online, and to the livelihoods of system 
operators.  The legislation also undermines several crucial privacy 
protections.  June 12, 1996 a 3-judge Federal court in Philadelphia
ruled the CDA unconstitutional, and enjoined enforcement. Action next 
moves to the US Supreme Court. But in the mean time, numerous states
have passed or are still considering Internet censorship laws, almost all
of which are unconstitutional and pose severe legal threats for all Internet
access and service providers, as well as content providers, including 
anyone who uses mailing list forums or newsgroups or who has a web page.

Business/industry persons concerned should alert their corporate govt.
affairs office and/or legal counsel.  Everyone should write to their own
Representatives and Senators, letting them know that such abuses of 
public trust will not be tolerated, that legislators who vote against
your free speech rights will be voted against by you in the next elections.

Join in the Blue Ribbon Campaign - see


Support the EFF Cyberspace Legal Defense Fund:

For more information on what you can do to help stop this and other 
dangerous legislation, see:, /pub/Alerts/, 1/Alerts

If you do not have full internet access (e.g. WWW), send your request
for information to

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.

* New Crypto-Privacy Legislation

Urge your Represenatitives to support the Pro-CODE crypto export bill 
(and to fix the few remaining bugs in it).  

For years US export controls on encryption have hampered the development
of secure communications online. This technology is vital for online 
commerce, for national security, and for YOUR electronic privacy.

The new Pro-CODE legislation will go a long way to rectifying the situation.

Join in the Golden Key Campaign - see


Support the EFF Cyberspace Legal Defense Fund:

See also:
for more info.

* Digital Telephony/Comms. Assistance to Law Enforcement Act

The FBI has been seeking both funding for the DT/CALEA wiretapping 
provisions, and preparing to require that staggering numbers of citizens be 
simultaneously wiretappable.  

To oppose the funding, write to your own Senators and Representatives 
urging them to vote against any appropriations for wiretapping. 

We are aware of no major action on this threat at present, but keep your
eyes peeled. It will be back.

See for more info.

* Anti-Terrorism Bills

Several bills threatening your privacy and free speech have been introduced
recently.  One passed, but none of the rest of them are close to passage at 
this very moment - however, this status may change. Urge your 
Congresspersons to oppose these unconstitutional and Big-Brotherish 
bills, which threaten freedom of association, free press, free speech, 
and privacy. One such bill passed a few weeks ago, stripped of some of the 
more onerous provisions.  It could have been worse, and could yet still 
be worse.

Keep up the pressure. Write to your legislators: No 
secret trials and deportations, no expansion of wiretapping scope or 
authority, no national or "smart-card" ID systems!

For more information on some of this legislation, see

* The Anti-Electronic Racketeering Act

This bill is unlikely to pass in any form, being very poorly drafted, and 
without much support.  However, the CDA is just as bad and passed with 
flying colors [the jolly roger?] in Congress. It's better to be safe 
than sorry. If you have a few moments to spare, writing to, faxing, or 
calling your Congresspersons to urge opposition to this bill is a good 

* Medical Privacy Legislation

Several bills relating to medical privacy issues are floating in Congress 
right now. Urge your legislators to support only proposals that *truly* 
enhance the medical privacy of citizens.

More information on this legislation will be available at soon.  Bug to make 
it appear there faster. :)

* Child Privacy Legislation

A new bill to protect children from unethical marketing practices (e.g. 
tricking kids into revealing personal information by offering prizes or 
games) has been introduced.  EFF and other civil liberties organizations
like, and dislike, various points in this bill.  The legislators 
sponsoring the bill appear interested in resolving the problems in the 
statutory language they have proposed.  More information on this will be 
provided soon.

* Find Out Who Your Congresspersons 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.

EFF has lists of the Senate and House with contact information, as well
as lists of Congressional committees. These lists are available at:, /pub/Activism/Congress_cmtes/, 1/EFF/Issues/Activism/Congress_cmtes

The full Senate and House lists are senate.list and hr.list, respectively.
Those not in the U.S. should seek out similar information about their
own legislative bodies.  EFF will be happy to archive any such
information provided to us, so pass it on!

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:

Computer Currents Interactive has provided Congress contact info, sorted 
by who voted for and against the Communcations Decency Act:

* Join EFF!

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!

For EFF membership info, send queries to, or send any
message to for basic EFF info, and a membership form.



EFFector Online 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, Online Activist, 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
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ually at will.

To subscribe to EFFector via email, send message body of "subscribe
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you to a subscription list for EFFector.

Back issues are available at:, /pub/EFF/Newsletters/EFFector/, 1/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
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at EFFweb.  HTML editions of the current issue sometimes take a day or 
longer to prepare after issue of the ASCII text version.


End of EFFector Online v09 #08 Digest


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