Citation: Reno v. ACLU 117 S.Ct. 2329. 1997. Cornell Law School. 4 April 2009. <ttp://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-511.ZO.html>.
This source is a Supreme Court decision that curtailed the federal government's ability to prohibit that could be harmful for children. The laws in question were provisions of section 223 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that prohibit knowingly transmitting "indecent" and "patently offensive" material on the Web to minors. The Supreme Court ruled that these provisions were unconstitutional, and upheld the ruling of a lower court, because they violated the first and fifth amendments of the Constitution. The court believed the terms "indecent" and "patently offensive" were too broad, and could restrict content that is actually not harmful. Additionally, the provisions were struck down because the court felt there was no good way to specifically target and identify Internet users under the age of 18, making this law difficult to violate or enforce. The portions of the law that prohibited knowingly transmitting obscene materials and child pornography to minors were upheld, because obscene content warrants less free-speech protection than indecent content. In the decision, written by Justice Stevens and agreed to by a large majority of the justices, there was also an overview of the history of the Internet and an explanation as to why cases upholding government laws monitoring commercial interests to protect children did not apply to this case.
Reno v. ACLU relates to my paper because it is a court case imporatnt to the ongoing battle to determine how best to protect children from harmful content online. If free speech bars the government from protecting children from certain types of potentially harmful content, then government regulation is not going to be the only solution needed to help shield children. However, since the government can pass laws regulating obscenity and child pornography, this case does demonstrate that there is a place where government regulation could potentially be helpful and useful. Stevens' decision would support my thesis, because the difficulty he acknowledges in detecting the age of Internet users makes it difficult for any organization to properly filter content. In order for children to be protected from some content, there will need to be intrinsic motivation for indecent websites to self-regulate and to try not to reach children.
Citation: "Communications Decency Act of 1996: Section 230" 1996. Cornell Law School. 4 April 2009. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/47/usc_sec_47_00000230----000-.html.
This source is a section of Congressional Legislation that plays an important role in regulating the filtering of online content, with some particulars relating to the filtering of such content to protect children. Titled “Protection for Private Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material,” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 guarantees Internet Service Providers (ISPs) a great deal of legal protection. The section of the law begins by describing the increasingly large role that the Internet was providing in people’s lives in 1996. Congress then establishes broad principles that guide its policy concerning the Internet. After that, Section 230 begins to lay out protections for ISPs, saying they are not the speakers or publishers of content provided to them by another service and guaranteeing civil protection for efforts made “in good faith” to filter obscene material. The law also requires ISPs to notify parents of parental control filtering programs that they can use to protect their children. Section 230 concludes by describing the previously mentioned provisions relationships to other laws and by defining terminology used in the document.
This document relates to my project because it has a large effect on the policy concerning the protection of children on the Internet. If ISPs are not considered the author of any of the works people can access through them, they have less of an incentive to develop effective filtering software. Section 230 of the CDA wants ISPs to act “in good faith” and try to restrict access to harmful material to children. However, the term “in good faith” is ambiguous and could be interpreted loosely. Despite the problems with the law when it comes to protecting children, it is understandable that Congress decided to take the approach of siding with the ISPs. In 1996, when the law was written, the Internet was a relatively new development, and many people still did not have access to it. As a result, the government wanted to prioritize helping ISPs, because it wanted the ISPs to expand and be able to give services to a greater number of people. Over a decade later, the online landscape has changed significantly, with the vast majority of people in the United States having Internet access. Perhaps Congress should now focus more on promoting the filtering of harmful content and less on supporting the legal and economic interests of the ISPs. This would likely to be tricky to do, because the ISPs would likely continue to lobby for their position and fight back, and too much government regulation could be seen as violating the Constitution.