Another indecent proposal - Angela Gunn
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 98 14:01:03 -0700
Subject: Another indecent proposal - Angela Gunn
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Another indecent proposal
By Angela Gunn
October 8, 1998
Yahoo! Internet Life
It's another election year, and once again your nation's legislators are
casting upon the Net community a gimlet eye glazed with family values.
Beware: The politicians are coming, and they will destroy this electronic
village in order to save it.
More than half of the current online population wasn't here the last time
Congress tried to work that family-values mojo, so let me recap for you.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) attempted to make "indecent"
language or images illegal online.
Sloppily written (there is no legal definition of indecent) and rushed
through Congress and the Oval Office on the basis of scandalous
misinformation about what's online, the CDA was killed by the U.S. Supreme
Court in mid-1997 after a long fight by online activists.
The legislation currently wending its way through Congress is known as CDA
II, and it's as clonelike as the name suggests. An amendment to an
appropriations bill, it allegedly would prohibit commercial distribution of
material deemed "harmful" to minors. Harmful, like indecent before it, is
apparently defined primarily in the mind of Dan Coats. Senator Coats
(R-Indiana) cowrote the first CDA; as he did last time, he's talking a lot
about protecting the innocence of children. Not educating them, or feeding
them, or making sure they have health care--just making sure that
unschooled, starving, sickly waifs don't happen across any dirty pictures.
Now that would be bad.
CDA II crept in on little Coats feet. Politicians known to be pro-Net were
apparently not informed that the bill was to be introduced (the Coats
contingent are so proud of this morass of bad legislation that they tried
to sneak it past their colleagues). The innocence of children, it seems, is
so fragile that it can be protected only by the perfidy of politicians.
And as if one piece of inept legislation weren't enough, there are two. A
second amendment, proposed by senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Patty
Murray (D-Washington), along with Coats and others, would require schools
and libraries that receive federal funding for Internet connections to
install software that blocks "inappropriate" material. The definition of
inappropriate is no clearer than that of harmful or indecent--and what's
not appropriate for a 7-year-old may be quite appropriate for you, the
taxpayer who paid for that Net access and is entitled to full and fair use
In other words, these bills haven't changed that much over the years: vague
language, an indistinct grasp of how the Net works, and hysterical
assumptions about what's actually online. No one's explaining how these
poorly written pieces of would-be law might differentiate between, say, a
live-sex-video site and offerings from the Judy Blume bookshelf at
AMAZON.COM. The only thing that's sure is that taxpayers will foot the bill
to puzzle it out.
And the McCain/Murray amendment--which budgets no additional funds for the
software it requires--places its trust not in the professionals paid to
guide young and old through the computer experience but in software
"Harmful," "indecent," and "inappropriate" material shares just one trait:
All of it is protected by the First Amendment. The judicial branch of the
government rejected the first CDA for exactly that reason. Frankly, the
decisions make for really stirring reading: judge after judge, justice after
justice, all the way up to the Supreme Court, reaffirming the First
Amendment as the law of the land and ruling that its provisions extend to
the Internet. Which means that you, the American Internet user, are
protected by the greatest legal document of the last 500 years--as long as
you work to defend your rights now.
As I was saying, more than half of you weren't online last time. But here
you are, and you know for yourselves the variety of stuff you can find
online. Though those of you with children are indeed concerned about what
your kids see online, recent polls (including one by FamilyPC, our sister
publication) indicate that when it comes to your impressionable youth, most
of you are worried more about insidious marketers than about lascivious
So claim your rights as an adult. Tell them that you birthed your kids and
that you'll parent 'em, thanks so much--or that you're over 18 and don't
need anyone, much less that moral paragon known as the average American
politician, to decide what you can see and read.
Last time, the duty of Net activism fell to a hardworking and vocal--but
ultimately very small--group of Netheads. This time it's your turn.
© 1998 Peter Langston