The passing of the Telecommunications Reform Bill into US law has drawn widespread opposition from both sides of the Internet community. Protesters object to the use of the much-needed telecommunications bill to carry laws on Internet decency and it has drawn criticism from the House, American morality lobbies and libertarian groups across the world. As […]
The passing of the Telecommunications Reform Bill into US law has drawn widespread opposition from both sides of the Internet community. Protesters object to the use of the much-needed telecommunications bill to carry laws on Internet decency and it has drawn criticism from the House, American morality lobbies and libertarian groups across the world. As the House slowly deciphered the nature of the Internet and the way in which it is used, changes were made to the original wording that criminalised anybody who makes, transmits or otherwise makes available ‘indecent’ material. The new wording prohibits providers from knowingly providing such material. But in the international world of the Internet, blanket bans on indecency may mean little more than a thorn in providers’ sides. Providers in the US are understandably worried as the law can obviously only be enforced there. The worry is that providers will be held responsible for filtering international newsgroups and prosecutable when failing to do so and court challenges are expected in areas such as limitation of language, which would make it illegal to discuss abortion over the Internet.
The Center for Democracy & Technology delivered a petition of 107,983 signatures in opposition to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler’s office five days after the amendment with a letter warning of the risk to Internet users of massive fines and imprisonment. Shabbir Safdar of the Voters Telecommunications Watch heads one of many groups actively opposing the bill. Once this bill becomes law, he said, Internet users will no longer be able to engage in free-wheeling discussions in newsgroups and other areas on the Internet accessible to minors. He said he found it astonishing that the legislation comes from one of the only countries in the world that protects free speech by constitution. On the other side, several proactive groups such as the Christian Coalition have complained that the bill is not tight enough. Paul McGeady, a national obscenity lawyer on the general council of Morality in Media, also criticized the bill for retaining the wording unsuitable for children which had, he said, become meaningless with the Erzoznik case earlier this year in which the phrase was interpreted as ‘harmful to minors’ and became open to too much interpretation to have any impact. It is unconstitutional to the first amendment if reasonable men would reasonably differ, he said. Also included in the bill is a ruling that new television sets must include the V-Chip parental control chip, and some observers see this being applied to stand-alone Internet browsers.