June 13, 1996
"The most democratic medium yet devised by the imagination of man," said US District Judge Stewart Dalzell referring to the Internet. He could have advantageously replaced "man" by "humankind" but he and his fellow judges got it right. The Internet is indeed the most democratic and far-reaching medium ever devised. And the Communications Decency Act was the most flagrant and dangerous attempt by our government to put a cap on free speech in America yet.
As a majority of Swans' members had joined the rank of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (cf. infra) in suing the government, jointly with many other organizations and corporations, including the ACLU, we are gratified to see reason prevail upon political expediency. In short, the panel of three judges asserted that the Internet is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Communications Decency Act.
"Just as the strength of the Internet is chaos, so the strength of our liberty depends upon chaos and cacophony of the unfettered speech the First Amendment protects," wrote the three-judge panel. Right again, one hundred times right!
The law, for the very first time, would have imposed criminal penalties on the exercise of free speech, carrying a maximum two-year prison sentence and up to $250,000 in fines. Scientific, medical, political, artistic and literary materials were targeted in the name of a so-called "decency" which in itself remained undefined. No one ever asked its sponsors whether they had had the "decency" to learn how to get on line before showing up on prime time with their moral pronunciamentos. Very few Americans even registered the dangers that the CDA represented (just over 45,000 individuals joined the fight).
Yet, a few noticed and three judges concurred. A gratifying thought and a great day indeed! Now let's hope that the Supreme Court will agree...
Please, go and visit the Web page of the the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition and read more about this very instructive case.