Review of the Communications Decency Act

In the process of unbridling the burdened telecommunications industry, Congress somehow forgot itself and managed to regulate a new blossoming business. This industry was one that was a true and unadulterated free market. It is the Internet.

This market place, which resides everywhere yet nowhere in a place called cyberspace, deals in one thing: information. Each day millions of people trade uncountable letters, memos, posts on newsgroups, photographs and innumerable conventional and unconventional information. This is done at the rate of millions of gigabytes each hour.

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Nevertheless, tucked away under Title V of the otherwise agreeable telecommunications deregulatory law, is a measure called the “Communications Decency Act”? It is also known as the “State Censorship Edict”. Whatever its name, it is simple disastrous.

The Communications Decency Act is cyberspace’s first encounter with the red tape of government. In the new law, the President and members of congress seek to shield us from what they call “obscene, indecent and offensive” material. Though specifically aimed at protecting minors from pornography, Title V is both ambiguous and broad. The law will hold citizens liable if they use the Internet public or accessible to minors “any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication” having anything to do with unfit material.

The Communications Decency Act will basically adversely affect millions of Internet users. It will create legal double standards and it will result in the “criminalization” of the commonplace. The Act will also set a dangerous precedence for state interference in cyberspace.

The communications Decency Act will affect far more than just the “hard core” pornography that legislators say they had in mind when they wrote the law. Assuming the law is strictly enforced, countless textual and photographic works in art, literature, and the sciences will become illegal. Such items will include pictures of the “Venus De Milo”, the text of J.D. Salinger’s work The Catcher in the Rye, pictures of Michaelango’s “David”, most biological texts, and a multitude of other things.

All of their works would carry fines of up to $250,000 and five years in prison, according to the legislation. The measure applies equally to the Internet news groups, World Wide Web pages, and any public databases, chat rooms, or archives which minors can access. The very notions that a citizen may be blamable under the law, be without malice, be without criminal intent, or be without blame, are not only silly but also frightening.

In addition, there are irreconcilable legal inconsistencies in the Communications Decency Act. For example, neither Penthouse magazine nor the corner store that sells it is guilty of a federal crime when a minor buys the publication and gets exposed to “obscene, indecent, or offensive” scenes. But under this Act they all would be responsible.

Another problem is that the law does not even mention or acknowledge consent. Regardless of whether it is you or the recipient or both who “initiated the communication”, the act is considered criminal. In other words to strike another person in the face, without permission, is called assault. And it is usually against the law. Yet, to strike a man continually, with his consent, as he tries to hit you too is called boxing or prize fighting. This is lawful and for most people fun to watch.

To call a person a “criminal” after they willingly takes actions to log onto and then access information from his account, World Wide Web page, or database is ridiculous. Anyone who has ever spent time online understands that the Internet and services such as America Online, CompuServe and others like them are not a passive media like television or the radio. They are active in the sense that the user must actually go and get the content they whish to view. In addition there are currently available filtering software that allows parents and teachers to screen out indecent Internet content. So how can there be either crime or blame with active use of the Internet.

Because the President signed the legislation, in reality an assenting citizen will be permitted by law to do most anything after his or her 16th birthday. That is the age of consent in most states. Yet, in cyberspace a person will be relegated to downloading weather maps and images from the Hubbell Space Telescope until their majority two years later. They would not even be able to research on the “net”, things that they are learning in school.

Federal tampering with speech and individual violation is nothing new in the United States. The Sedition Act of 1798 once allowed federal officials to imprison citizens who defamed or brought “into contempt or disrepute” the President and congress. And in the present day a person is unable to turn on a television or radio or even talk to another person without being guilty of the defunct Sedition Act. The Federal Communications Commission maintains volumes of “administrative law” regulations, none of which were voted upon, governing demeanor and speech on the airways. So it is no wonder that they feel obligated to also regulate the Internet.

The logical solution to all this lies not with the government, but with parents. If they choose, parents may monitor their children’s Internet use. Monitoring a child’s Internet use is a far easier chore than monitoring the television, books, or magazines. In addition, computer programs and the actual machines can be made to require passwords.


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Review of the Communications Decency Act. (2018, Sep 19). Retrieved from