The Communications Decency Act, or CDA, describes a particular law passed by anal-retentive members of Congress, and a sad time in the history of the Internet. It basically said that no web site in America could have anything remotely offensive on it, unless it had an age verification system. Web pages went down everywhere as right-wingers took over the Internet. Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional.

See also: censorship

The Communications Decency Act, Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, was introduced by Senators Exon and Gorton in 1995 as the first attempt to regulate pornographic material appearing on the Internet. Title V affected the Internet and online communication in two ways. Firstly, as its original goal, it attempted to regulate indecency and obscenity online. Secondly, Section 230 of the act defined operators of Internet services were not to be interpreted as publishes, and therefore legally liable for the words of third parties.

The anti-indecency and anti-obscenity provisions of the Communications Decency Act were put in place in response to concerns that Internet pornography was on the rise. Title V sought to extend the decency and obscenity rules that the FCC already imposed on television and radio. Title V specifically imposes criminal sanctions to anyone who knowingly utilizes Internet and online means to send to or provide any “comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication that, in context depicts, describes or in terms patently offensive, sexual or excretory activities.” Unfortunately, this was met with great objection by free speech advocates who argued that novels in print today, later posted on the Internet, which contained use of the “seven dirty words” would become unlawful, resulting in a chilling effect of the availability of information.

Several States began blocking portions of the Act, citing the fact that it would violate free speech rights of adults as reasoning behind the blockage. One such case was Reno v. ACLU which sought to show that the indecency provisions of Title V were an unconstitutional abridgment of the first amendment to free speech and that the terms “patently offensive” were not thoroughly defined and therefore impossible to abide by. On June 26, 1997, the court upheld Philadelphia's decision to block this specific portion of the Act and in 2003, Congress amended the Act to repeal the indecency clause(s).

In effect, the Supreme Court found the legal wording of the Act to be too loose, and therefore difficult to work to avoid violating, and furthermore enforce. So, while the Act meant well, it, through several amendments and revisions has been stripped down, and while its original intention is still there – its effect is not as far reaching as originally intended.


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