‘Son of CDA’ is an Affront to Free Speech, Would Hurt Adult Access to Internet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 24, 1998

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For Immediate Release
September 24, 1998

‘Son of CDA’ is an Affront to Free Speech, Would Hurt Adult Access to Internet

A bill that would criminalize the posting of a broad array of information on the Internet violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it would expand government control over what ideas may be excluded, People For the American Way President Carole Shields said Thursday.

The House Commerce Committee is scheduled Thursday to take up HR 3783, which would require Web sites containing information deemed “harmful to minors” to use an adult verification method – such as a credit card, an adult access code or a personal identification number – to prevent children from accessing their sites. Anyone convicted of violating the measure could face a fine of up to $50,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

“This bill is unconstitutional because it would have a chilling effect on what information adults post,” Shields said. “The First Amendment both guarantees Americans the right to speak freely and prevents the government from making certain ideas off limits.”

Shields noted that current law rightly protects against obscenity and child pornography but that the proposed law – and in particular the phrase “harmful to minors” – is too broad. “When it comes to protecting our children, parents, not Congress, should choose,” she said.

Shields concluded that it is interesting that the House Commerce Committee is taking up this patently unconstitutional bill less than six weeks before the November elections. “They’re looking for a cheap ‘values vote’ that the Religious Right can insert into their voter guides in another effort to mislead the voters and subvert the First Amendment,” she said.

PFAW served as co-counsel and co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.