FBI review of CompuServe complaint violates restraining order
PENNSYLVANIA–A Federal Bureau of Investigation “review” of sexual material on the CompuServe electronic information service violated terms of a federal panel’s temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of new telecommunications rules, a federal District Judge in Philadelphia ruled in mid-May.
The judge barred the Department of Justice from reviewing allegedly indecent sexually oriented Internet content until a three- judge panel rules on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act.
Judge Stewart Dalzell, who is a member of the panel reviewing the CDA, said that a temporary restraining order issued in mid-February prohibits the government from reviewing sexually oriented Internet content that is not obscene and does not include child pornography. The FBI review was based on indecent and not obscene material, according to Judge Dalzell.
Under Judge Dalzell’s order, the Justice Department retains its full power to review complaints regarding obscenity or child pornography, but if it appears that such material is not involved, the review must immediately cease.
Beginning in March, Patrick Trueman of the American Family Association sent letters to Attorney General Janet Reno, claiming that CompuServe was “a content provider rather than merely an access provider of pornography, possibly obscene material.” Attached to one of Trueman’s letters were eight photographs of nude women in poses analogous to Playboy or Penthouse centerfolds, allegedly available through a CompuServe database.
Terry Lord, Acting Director of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, then sent a letter to Trueman, indicating that the letter and accompanying materials had been sent to the FBI “for further review.”
Lord wrote, “With the passage of the CDA in 1996, we are turning our attention to the distribution of indecency on the Internet. As you correctly point out, the distribution of these materials has a deleterious effect on minors. While current litigation on the constitutionality of the CDA precludes certain actions until the matter is resolved, rest assured that we will pursue all other available options.” (ACLU v. Reno; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Christopher Hansen, New York City)