1996 February 8

President Clinton Signs Communications Decency Act; ACLU Sues


Hours after President Bill Clinton signed the Communications Decency Act of 1996 on this day, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 19 other plaintiffs filed suit challenging it. Arguably the most sweeping censorship law in American history, the CDA was one section of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It was designed to protect minors from obscene or indecent material on the Internet, but its terms were so vague that it potentially covered important material on sex education, homosexuality, and other subjects. The law provided criminal penalties for anyone sending over the internet to someone under the age of 18 “any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs.”

In Reno v. ACLU, decided on June 26, 1997, the Supreme Court declared the law an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. President Clinton expressed reservations about the CDA, but signed the bill into law anyway, in large part because he was facing reelection in November and did not want to be accused of being “soft” on Internet pornography.

Read Clinton’s Signing Statement (the next to last paragraph):

Watch a video on the Communications Decency Act: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iArH2pS2-bM

Is Cyberspace Burning? Learn more from the ACLU: http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/fahrenheit-4512-cyberspace-burning

Learn more: Marjorie Heins, Not in Front of the Children: “Indecency,” Censorship and the Innocence of Youth (2001)

Learn more about the myths and facts about pornography: Marcia Pally, Sense and Censorship: The Vanity of the Bonfires (1991), http://mediacoalition.org/files/Sense-and-Censorship.pdf

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