The following are from the ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update on Wednesday,
February 5, 1996.
1. Courtroom Internet Tour In First Challenge to State Cyber-Censorship Law
2. 6th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Charges Against Jake Baker
3. Oklahoma Professor Loses Suit to Lift Restrictions on University Computers
* Courtroom Internet Tour In First Challenge to State Cyber-Censorship Law
On Thursday, January 30 a courtroom hearing on the first-ever challenge to
a state Internet censorship statute, included a live tour of the Internet
for a federal district judge.
Hans Klein, a professor of technology and public policy at the Georgia Institute
of Technology, presented a guided tour of the Internet to Judge Marvin
Shoob of the Northern District Court of Georgia. Prof. Klein testifies on
behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, which along with Electronic
Frontiers Georgia (EFGA), Georgia State Representative Mitchell Kaye and
others, filed a challenge to a Georgia law criminalizing free speech in
The law, which was passed by the Georgia General Assembly last year and
became effective on July 1, 1996, provides criminal sanctions of up to 12
months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine for violations.
Today marks only the third time that an evidentiary hearing has included an
online tour in a case challenging an Internet censorship law. The first
such "cyber-tour" was conducted before a three-judge panel in federal
district court in Philadelphia during ACLU v. Reno, the challenge to the
federal Internet censorship law now scheduled for Supreme Court review in
March. A second case challenging the same law in a New York court, Shea v.
Reno, included a similar Internet tour.
"Despite the explosive growth of the Internet, many people still have not
been online and do not fully understand the extraordinarily positive
features of this new medium," said Christopher Hansen, an ACLU national
"When courts are called upon to decide the rules for what one judge called
'the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed,' it is
especially important that they formulate a clear understanding of the
nature of that medium," he added.
Additional information on the Georgia Suit can be found at
* 6th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Charges Against Jake Baker
Jake Baker, the first person to be criminally charged for Internet writings, was
vindicated Wednesday by a federal court ruling that his communications were
constitutionally protected free speech, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The former University of Michigan student wrote on the Internet about
raping, torturing and murdering women. But he didn't threaten them, the
Court ruled Wednesday.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in
Cincinnati upheld a June 1995 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Avern
Cohn in Detroit dismissing charges against Baker. Cohn had said the
writings were constitutionally protected free speech.
Civil libertarians, who feared unconstitutional regulation of the vast
reaches of cyberspace, cheered the ruling.
"The values of the First Amendment must be protected even in cyberspace,"
Howard Simon, executive director of the Michigan American Civil Liberties
Union, told the Free Press.
"The court's ruling reinforces the distinction between fantasies and
threats. Fantasies --- even sick fantasies -- are free speech, threats are
criminal behavior," Simon said. "That's the crucial distinction upheld by
the Court of Appeals in affirming the federal court's earlier decision."
The ACLU of Michigan filed briefs urging that charges by dropped against
Baker with the U.S. District Court in Detroit and the appeals court in
Oklahoma Professor Loses Suit to Lift Restrictions on University Computers
Professor Bill Loving took the University of Oklahoma to court after they
blocked usenet's alt.sex hierarchy. While the University claimed to be
about violating an Oklahoma stat law, Loving argued that this restriction
was a form of censorship, and constituted a prior restraint on speech.
But last week U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley held that Loving's
constitutional rights had not been violated when the server access was shut
off, and that Oklahoma had the same rights as a private actor would to
control its property, and could make decisions to block this kind of use.
The University has now established two servers, and does provide unlimited
Internet access on one of them. However, access to that server is
restricted to people over the age of 18 who can prove they have an academic
reason for needing the expanded access. "Without reaching any conclusions
about the action of the defendant, the court determines that, the plaintiff
has not shown that
his constitutional rights were violated," Alley stated in the verdict.
The University's policy limiting full access to people over 18 with an "academic
need" for it is troublesome said ACLU Staff Attorney Ann Beeson.
"Historically the university has been a place of robust debate and
discussion even outside the
classroom. The policy's requirement that internet access be restricted to
academic research would stifle online discussion of the sort that takes
place every day on college campuses," she said.
Loving plans to appeal the verdict.
* Joey Senat *
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