March 23, 1995
A Cyber Liberties Alert
from the ACLU
Senate Committee Backs Cyber Censorship, and Imposes Criminal Penalties
WHAT JUST HAPPENED
The Senate Commerce Committee adopted late this morning a modified version
of the Exon bill, the so-called "Communications Decency Act" (originally
introduced as Senate Bill 314). Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), who had
cosponsored S. 314 with Senator James Exon (D-NE), proposed the amendment
in Exon's absence. It was adopted on voice vote as an amendment to the
Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995.
The amendment would subject on-line users to scrutiny and criminal
penalties if their messages were deemed to be indecent, lewd, lascivious or
filthy -- all communications that are protected by the Free Speech
Guarantees of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Although protecting children from pornography is its most often cited
rationale, this is really a "bait and switch" with your rights at stake.
Note that the amendment in fact goes way beyond child pornorgaphy. It's
like the opponents of TV violence who first said children should be
protected and then made "Murder She Wrote" with Angela Landsbury their
number one target. Or like the censors who banned "Huckleberry Finn,"
"Where's Waldo?" and even Webster's Dictionary (it has "bad" words in it,
after all). The Exon/Gorton Amendment would invite active interference in
the basic speech of everyone using any telecommunication device -- simply
because some government bureaucrat somewhere thought the speech was
indecent or lascivious.
All senators on the committee had been informed that the Exon/Gorton
amendment would violate the Constitution, assault the liberties of net
users, stifle development of new technologies (many of which offer greater
choice and control by all users -- including parents), and spawn expensive
litigation -- while not succeeding at reducing access by children to
pornography. A coalition of civil liberties organizations -- including
the ACLU -- and numerous commercial companies warned against adopting the
Exon/Gorton amendment, which originally would also have made all online
service providers (in fact, anyone transmitting an offensive message)
Some commercial companies offered Exon and Gorton language exempting
themselves from liability while still letting their subscribers be
prosecuted. Today Senator Gorton said that the amendment had been modified
to exempt those merely "transmitting" the message. The amendment would,
however, still cover anyone who originates a message deemed indecent,
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Contact the senators from your state, and all senators on the Commerce
Commitee expressing your disappointment with this morning's action. Thank
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-SD) for not including
the Exon/Gorton amendment in his proposed bill, and urge him to support
action on the Senate floor to remove the anti-cyber amendment.
2. Contact your online service providers and ask them what they have been
doing about this Exon/Gorton assault on your liberties. Some providers are
still standing up for your rights; others may not have.Urge them, not to
support any legislation that protects them, but violates your free speech
rights. Urge them to oppose the modified Exon/Gorton amendment.
3. Contact all the other senators and urge them to support deletion of
the Exon/Gorton amendment when the bill comes to the Senate floor.
4. Stay tuned for further information and action items for both House and
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nationwide, nonpartisan
organization of over 275,000 members. Now in its 75th year, the ACLU is
devoted exclusively to protecting the civil liberties guaranteed by the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights, whereever these liberties are at
risk--in a bookstore, in school, on the street, in cyberspace, wherever.
The ACLU does this through legislative action, public education and
Send your letter by e-mail, fax, or snail mail to:
Senator Larry Pressler, S.D.
Chairman, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
SR-254 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6125
(202) 224-5842 (phone)
(202) 224-1259 (fax of Commerce Committee)
To maximize the impact of your letter, you should also write to the
members of the Senate Commerce Committee and to your own Senators.
Majority Members of the Senate Commerce Committee
Senator Bob Packwood, Ore.
SR-259 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3702
(202) 224-5244 (phone)
(202) 228-3576 (fax)
Senator Ted Stevens, Alaska
SH-522 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-0201
(202) 224-3004 (phone)
(202) 224-1044 (fax)
Senator John McCain, Ariz.
SR-111 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-0303
(202) 224-2235 (phone)
(202) 228-2862 (fax)
Senator Conrad Burns, Mont.
SD-183 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2603
(202) 224-2644 (phone)
(202) 224-8594 (fax)
Senator Slade Gorton, Wash.
SH-730 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4701
(202) 224-3441 (phone)
(202) 224-9393 (fax)
Senator Trent Lott, Miss.
SR-487 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2403
(202) 224-6253 (phone)
(202) 224-2262 (fax)
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Tex.
SH-703 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4303
(202) 224-5922 (phone)
(202) 224-0776 (fax)
Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Maine
SR-174 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1903
(202) 224-5344 (phone)
(202) 224-6853 (fax)
Senator John Ashcroft, Mo.
SH-705 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2504
(202) 224-6154 (phone)
Minority Members of the Senate Commerce Committee
Senator Ernest F. Hollings, S.C.
SR-125 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4002
(202) 224-6121 (phone)
(202) 224-4293 (fax)
Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii
SH-772 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1102
(202) 224-3934 (phone)
(202) 224-6747 (fax)
Senator Wendell H. Ford, Ky.
SR-173A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1701
(202) 224-4343 (phone)
(202) 224-0046 (fax)
Senator J. James Exon, Neb.
SH-528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2702
(202) 224-4224 (phone)
(202) 224-5213 (fax)
Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, W. Va.
SH-109 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4802
(202) 224-6472 (phone)
(202) 224-1689 (fax)
Senator John F. Kerry, Mass.
SR-421 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2102
(202) 224-2742 (phone)
(202) 224-8525 (fax)
Senator John B. Breaux, La
SH-516 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1803
(202) 224-4623 (phone)
(202) 224-2435 (fax)
Senator Richard H. Bryan, Nev.
SR-364 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2804
(202) 224-6244 (phone)
(202) 224-1867 (fax)
Senator Byron L. Dorgan, N.D.
SH-713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3405
(202) 224-2551 (phone)
(202) 224-1193 (fax)
You can also write or fax your own Senator at:
The Honorable ______________________
Washington, D.C. 20510
Senate directories including fax numbers may be found at:
Additional information about the ACLU's position on this issue and others
affecting civil liberties online and elsewhere may be found at:
OR request our FAQ at firstname.lastname@example.org
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gopher://aclu.org:6601 | 132 W. 43rd Street, NY, NY 10036
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Carl Kadie -- I do not represent EFF or my employer; this is just me.
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