Judge enjoins enforcement of Telecommunications Act’s “indecency” provision
PENNSYLVANIA–The federal government was temporarily enjoined in mid-February from enforcing a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which makes it a crime to use any telecommunications device to transmit indecent speech to minors.
Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled that the word “indecent” is unconstitutionally vague and not defined in the act.
Judge Buckwalter denied requests for temporary restraining orders on two other sections of the act, which is part of the broader Telecommunications Act of 1996. One of those sections makes it a crime to use any interactive computer service, including the Internet, to send or make available to minors “patently offensive” material. The other provision could restrict discussion of abortion on any interactive computer service.
In ruling on the latter, Judge Buckwalter held there was no immediate threat of harm, referring to a letter sent in early February by Attorney General Janet Reno to Vice President Al Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich in which she said that the relevant section of the act is unconstitutional and that the Department of Justice will not enforce it.
The suit was brought in early February by the American Civil Liberties Union and nineteen other parties, including other special interest groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, online distributors of information on AIDS, and publishers of online magazines.
A three-judge panel of federal district judges in Philadelphia will now hear arguments on the constitutionality of the act. Under terms of the legislation, any subsequent appeal will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. (ACLU v. Reno; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Christopher A. Hansen, New York City)