Texas ISPs Join Legislative Battle Against Smut
By Will Rodger
Texas state legislators pushing a measure to combat online indecencyhave
won an unlikely ally: Internet service providers.
Representatives of the Texas Internet Service Provider Association,or
TISPA, lent their support to the bill in a hearing held before theTexas
House Business Development committee March 4.
The measure would require Internet service providers, or ISPs, togive their
customers an opportunity to buy screening software eitherthrough direct
sales or simple links to Internet sites where thesoftware is available.
Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, drafted the measure. Corte aidestold Texas
ISPs the bill is an ideal way to protect Internet companiesfrom liability
for materials that appear on their systems without theirknowledge.
Others -- the American Civil Liberties Union among them -- aren't sosure.
"We've had quite a few people call in with specific questionsabout what the
state requires," Corte said.
With the bill in place, he said, ISPs could at least show theyfollowed
state rules in the event that anyone sued them or broughtcriminal charges
concerning the presence of materials deemed harmful tominors on their
Chad Kissinger, a part-time lobbyist for the TISPA, said hisorganization's
support was real, though lukewarm.
"We're not asking to be regulated," Kissinger said."All it's doing is
requiring us to point to some software. It setsa standard by which we can
say we've met the state's standard fordealing with this issue."
With tougher battles expected later in the session, Kissinger said,the
Internet providers hope the bill will set a tone for furtherregulation that
Ann Beeson, staff attorney for the ACLU (www.aclu.org) and one of thechief
litigators in the ACLU's lawsuit against the federalCommunications Decency
Act, passed as part of the 1996Telecommunications Reform Act, said the
Texas bill, though probablyconstitutional, is troubling.
"If we assume the government can do this, aren't we closer tosaying the
government can require business to supply blockingsoftware?" Beeson asked.
She said a case could probably be made that the bill amounts toforced
speech -- a violation of the First Amendment -- but she didn'tthink it
likely the ACLU would bring suit.
In any case, Beeson said, since the bill makes no mention of immunityfrom
liability, ISPs will likely gain little from its passage.
"They could have included a provision like that, but it doesn'tdo anything
like that," she said. "It's a total figleaf."
The bill is expected to pass the Texas House Business DevelopmentCommittee
To become law, the bill must be introduced in the state Senate andpassed by
both chambers before the end of June.