White House Set To Ease Stance On Internet Smut

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Wed, 18 Jun 97 10:19:27 PDT

Nice quote from Sobel:
> ``To come in right after the Supreme Court decides the issue and say
> we didn't really mean what we said up to now - I can't imagine
> anything that would be seen as more of a waffle than that,'' Sobel
> said. ``It raises waffling to an art form.''

Ah, Clinton, the institution of the Presidency of the United States will
never be the same. That, my brother, is your legacy...

Full article from the New York Times below:

------------------- 8< ------------------------------------------------

White House Set To Ease Stance On Internet Smut
Monday, June 16, 1997, posted 2:30pm EST

WASHINGTON - With a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision imminent on a
new law restricting children's access to indecent material on the
Internet, senior Clinton administration officials are preparing a policy
that undercuts the administration's strong support of the law until
now.Administration officials, anticipating that the court will strike
the law down as an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech, have been
quietly fashioning a new communications policy that leaves most
regulation of the sprawling online world to the industry itself.

No announcement will be made until the court rules on the
constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. And
officials noted that the current draft of a working group's report,
dated June 4, is not necessarily the last word spelling out the new
approach. The president makes policy, they said, and this matter will
not be settled until he approves. The administration's apparent change
of course has startled civil libertarians and online business services
opposed to the law and revived an internal debate over how President
Clinton should deal with the new law, passed hurriedly last year as part
of the sweeping Telecommunications Act. Advisers persuaded Clinton to
sign the bill as a gesture to families concerned with what their
children can see on the Internet.

The law makes it a crime punishable by two years in prison and a
$250,000 fine to transmit indecent material over the Internet in a
manner available to minors.

In the first tests in court, two federal appeals panels ruled
unanimously last year that the act violated the free speech protections
of the First Amendment.

The administration appealed one ruling, arguing forcefully in favor of
the decency law before the justices in March. Pleading the government's
case in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, Deputy Solicitor General
Seth Waxman called the Internet ``a revolutionary means for displaying
sexually explicit, patently offensive material to children in the
privacy of their own homes.''

He said then that the ease of access to online pornography ``threatens
to render irrelevant all prior efforts'' to shield children from such

On the other side, the groups that took the matter to court called the
law a blatantly unconstitutional assault on free speech and argued that
its purposes can be accomplished legally with new technology and through
greater parental supervision.

Despite its vigorous defense of the law just three months ago, the
administration is now preparing a new policy on Internet content that
states that obscenity and indecency rules now applied to television and
radio broadcasts are not appropriate for the Internet.

In the draft position paper prepared for an announcement by Clinton at
an event on July 1 celebrating the growth of commerce on the Internet,
White House officials call for ``industry self-regulation,'' rather than
a broad legislative solution to the problem of pornography and other
content unsuitable for children browsing through cyberspace.

The document, prepared by a group led by the senior White House adviser
Ira Magaziner, states that devices are available today that allow
parents to limit the material their children can see on their home
computers. Magaziner, the architect of the administration's failed
health care initiative in Clinton's first term, has been working on a
new policy on global electronic commerce for the past 15 months.

``To the extent, then, that effective filtering technology is available,
content regulations traditionally imposed on radio and television need
not be extended to the Internet,'' the most recent draft of the policy
says. ``In fact, unnecessary regulation or censorship could cripple the
growth and diversity of the Internet.''

That language stunned opponents of the decency law, who said that it
represented an almost complete turnabout from the government's position
before the Supreme Court in March.

``If that's their new policy, I think they have an obligation to
announce it to the court before they rule,'' said Christopher Hansen of
the ACLU, which led a large coalition of groups opposed to the decency
act; online service providers like Microsoft, Compuserve and Prodigy;
users of Internet research services like the American Library
Association; and trade groups like the American Publishers Association
and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ``The government made a pretty strong
argument in March, but if this is their new position I will be happy to
applaud them,'' Hansen said.

Another lawyer involved in the effort to overturn the decency law said
that Clinton wanted to sign the bill last summer for political reasons
when he was running for re-election despite widespread qualms about its

David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said the
administration argued on behalf of the act in March and now appeared to
be walking away from it on the eve of a ruling. ``To come in right
after the Supreme Court decides the issue and say we didn't really mean
what we said up to now - I can't imagine anything that would be seen as
more of a waffle than that,'' Sobel said. ``It raises waffling to an art

The Clinton administration is riven at a very high level over the issue.
Some officials associated with Magaziner's group believe strongly that
the Communications Decency Act was a poor piece of policy that the
president should repudiate. They want Clinton to allow the marketplace
to find solutions to the problem of offensive material on the Internet,
stepping in only when there are clear violations of current law.

``We all knew at the time it was passed that the Communications Decency
Act was unconstitutional,'' said one senior government official who
opposed the new law on Internet speech. ``This was purely politics. How
could you be against a bill limiting the display of pornography to
children?'' But other officials defended the administration, saying
that the new position did not represent a policy reversal.

``This is only prudent planning for what to do if the law is struck
down,'' one senior White House official said. The draft policy is
``consistent with what we've said. We're not changing our position.''


I don't appreciate your ruse, ma'am. ("My what?") Your ruse, your
cunning attempt to trick me.
-- Clerks, as available on the new CD by the Devil Dogs.......
[Tim, didja get my check yet?]