ACLU suing to stop N.Y. law

FROM ACLU Cyber-Liberties Update March 5, 1997

* ACLU Moves to Protect Netizens From Prosecution Under New York
Cybercensorship Law

Despite two lower court rulings protecting Internet users from
prosecution under the federal Communications Decency Act, "netizens"
are still in danger of criminal charges under a New York law that
restricts free speech in cyberspace, the American Civil Liberties
Union said today.

Moving to protect netizens, the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties
Union yesterday filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal
district court, saying that their plaintiffs (and all Internet users)
could face prison sentences of up to four years under the law. The
federal CDA is currently awaiting review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Governor Pataki may say that he is trying to protect minors, but the
sad fact is that this law does not and cannot protect children," said
Ann Beeson, an ACLU national staff attorney specializing in cyberspace
issues. "The only immediate harm on the horizon is to the millions of
Internet users, including our plaintiffs, who face criminal
prosecution for exercising their right to free speech."

"Parents, not the government, should control what their children see
online," Beeson added. "This can be more effectively and less
restrictively accomplished through the use of blocking software and
the development of other technology that allows for voluntary

Because New York State has refused to stay prosecution while the
Supreme Court considers the federal law, the case is now moving
forward to a courtroom hearing, scheduled to begin on April 3. The
hearing is expected to last from three to five days and will likely
include a live demonstration of the Internet as well as testimony from
expert witnesses and plaintiffs.

The brief also includes the assertion that the Act violates the
CommerceClause of the United States Constitution because it regulates
communications outside the state of New York and subjects Internet
users to a confusing babel of conflicting state laws.

"A librarian in Illinois will now think twice before sending
information to a fellow librarian in New York, or will not 'link' to a
website in New York for fear that New York authorities will charge
them under this confusing statute," said Judith Krug, director of the
American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

 "Despite the fact that this is a New York statute, given the reality
of the Internet, anyone who accesses information from outside New York
is also impacted by this law. This is clearly unacceptable for any
Internet user," she added.

Citing opinions that struck down the federal CDA, the ACLU said that
the New York law contains the same "fatal constitutional flaws." A
chart appended to the brief shows, point by point, the similarities --
including, in some cases, identical language -- between the two laws.
A favorable decision by the high court would provide powerful
ammunition against the New York law, the ACLU said.

"We are surprised and disappointed that the State of New York is
rushing to judgment on an issue of critical importance, when everyone
knows that the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on the
related federal case two weeks from now," said Norman Siegel,
executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Reno v. ACLU
on March 19. A decision is expected to be handed down by the end of
the term, in June or July.

*       Joey Senat                                          *
*       Doctoral Student                                    *
*       School of Journalism & Mass Communication           *
*       University of North Carolina @ Chapel Hill          *
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*       E-Mail:  jsenat@email.unc.edu                       *
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