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Indecency Restraining Order
Subject: Indecency Restraining Order
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From: David Sobel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Decision in CDA "Indecency"
February 15, 1996, 6:45 p.m. ET
A federal judge in Philadelphia has issued a partial temporary restraining order prohibiting enforcement of the "indecency" provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The judge declined to enjoin those provisions of the Act dealing with "patently offensive" communications.
The court agreed with the plaintiif's claim that the CDA will have a chilling effect on free speech on the Internet and found that the CDA raises "serious, substantial, difficult and doubtful questions." The Court further agreed that the CDA is "unconstitutionally vague" as to the prosecution for indecency. But the Court left open the possibility that the government could prosecute under the "patently offensive" provisions.
The court has recognized the critical problem with the CDA, which is the attempt to apply the indecency standard to on-line communications. Nonetheless, online speech remains at risk because of the sweeping nature of the CDA.
The entry of the court order is a strong indication that the "indecency" provision of the legislation that went into effect on February 8 will not survive constitutional scrutiny by a three-judge panel that has been impaneled in Philadelphia. The panel will fully evaluate the constitutional validity of the legislation and consider entry of a permanent injunction against enforcement of the new law.
The temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued in a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the American Civil Liberties Union and a broad coalition of organizations. EPIC is also participating as co-counsel in the litigation.
The court ruling comes in the wake of widespread denunciation of the CDA, which was included in the telecommunications reform bill signed into law last week.
According to EPIC Legal Counsel David Sobel, one of the attorneys representing the coalition, "The court's decision is a partial victory for free speech, but expression on the Internet remains at risk. This is destined to become a landmark case that will determine the future of the Internet." Looking ahead to proceedings before the three-judge panel, Sobel said "we are optimistic that further litigation of this case will demonstrate to the court that the CDA, in its entirety, does not pass constitutional muster.
EPIC has maintained since its introduction in Congress that the ban on "indecent" and "patently offensive" electronic speech is a clear violation of the free speech and privacy rights of millions of Internet users.
Comprehensive information on the CDA lawsuit, including plaintiffs' brief in support of the TRO, is available at:
David L. Sobel
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Co-counsel in *ACLU, et al. v. Reno*