WASHINGTON -- When President Clinton signed the
Communications Decency Act into law last year, he and his top
advisers knew that the legislation, regulating indecent material
on the Internet, was on shaky constitutional ground.
White House officials immediately began planning a new approach on
Internet smut to replace the flawed law, even as administration lawyers
were writing their brief defending the act.
The result can be found in the broad new administration policy on Internet
commerce and content that is to be announced by the president next week.
Clinton's answer to cyberporn: new technology allowing parents to block
offensive material that might otherwise reach their children, stricter
supervision of children surfing the Internet and stronger self-regulation by
the online industry.
In a statement issued by the White House after the decency act was struck
down by the Supreme Court on Thursday, the president said he would
convene industry executives and groups representing parents, teachers and
librarians to seek a solution to the problem of online pornographic material.
The meeting is to be held next Tuesday.
"We can and must develop a solution for the Internet that is as powerful for
the computer as the V-chip will be for the television, and that protects
children in ways that are consistent with America's free-speech values,"
"With the right technology and rating systems," he said, "we can help
insure that our children don't end up in the red-light districts of
Members of Congress who supported the decency law criticized the justices
and vowed to redouble efforts
to write a bill that would survive court scrutiny to protect children from
"The Supreme Court, in its ruling against the Communications Decency Act,
has entered dangerous,
unexplored territory," said one of the voided law's sponsors, Sen. Daniel
"A judicial elite is undermining democratic attempts to address pressing
social problems. The Supreme
Court is purposely disarming the Congress in the most important conflicts
of our time."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she would soon introduce a bill that
would make it a felony to exploit
chat rooms designed for children, require Web site operators to rate their
pages for content and help provide
filtering software for households with children and computers.
But free-speech and Internet industry groups said no law could effectively
monitor and regulate content on
the rapidly expanding global information network without trampling on
fundamental freedoms. They said
the Supreme Court, whose decision Friday was unanimous in most respects,
had spoken forcefully in favor
of free speech, leaving advocates of regulatory measures with little room
"The decision is a benchmark, establishing a First Amendment for the 21st
century," said Jerry Berman of
the Center for Democracy and Technology, which opposed the decency law.
"We think we can protect
children and families in a far more effective way than any government
Companies that engage in electronic business applauded the decision,
saying the information revolution
could not proceed without freedom of expression in cyberspace.
Marc Pearl, general counsel of the Information Technology Association of
America, said software
companies and Internet service providers would quickly develop effective
weapons that adults could use to
monitor and restrict what children see on computer screens.
"It is in the best interest of our industry to develop these tools and
provide them to consumers," Pearl said.
"If people are fearful of using the Internet, the billions of dollars we
have invested in this technology will
go for naught."
The Internet industry's response mirrors the conclusions of the
administration study group that has spent
the last 15 months formulating a new electronic commerce policy.
The group, under the direction of Ira Magaziner, concluded that government
efforts to restrict speech on the
Internet would throttle a business that is still in its infancy and
encourage other nations to impose restrictive
regulations as well.
"Unnecessary regulation or censorship could cripple the growth and
diversity of the Internet," the group's
While the Supreme Court spoke decisively on the question of free speech in
cyberspace, its ruling Thursday
will not be the last word on the matter. Anti-pornography crusaders
protested the decision outside the Court
this morning and said they would support new legislation to criminalize
smut-peddling on the Internet.
Donna Rice-Hughes, communications director of Enough Is Enough, a national
said society needed tools to punish those who would prey electronically on
"After this ruling, a pedophile could send a nude picture of himself over
the Internet to a child," she said.
"Penthouse could invite children into their Web site, with no legal
recourse. Everyone will study the
decision, take the advice of the court and go back to the drawing board."
...two turntables and a microphone.