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SHORT ITEMS & UPDATES:09/23/96 -- Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act…



— Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act in mid-September. Bills passed both chambers without opposition and the Clinton administration issued a statement of support even before the votes were taken, ensuring that it will become law.

The measure clearly extends the FOI Act to computerized records and entitles FOI requesters to receive databases as well as paper records.

It also confronts the increasing delays by federal agencies in complying with the FOI Act in several ways, including a measure to provide expedited review when the subject matter of the request is of “compelling urgncy to the public.” (S.1090; H.R. 3802)

A bill that bans indecent material on the Internet was signed into law by New York Gov. George Pataki in early September.

Although the bill is designed to shield minors from harmful, indecent material, it prohibits the transmission or distribution of information that can be legally published in newspapers and books, according to civil liberties organizations.

The provisions of the new law are similar to the federal Communications Decency Act, which earlier this year was declared unconstitutional by federal panels in both the Second and Third circuits.

Shortly before Gov. Pataki signed the bill, the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter urging him not to sign it. No organizations had challenged the law in court as of mid-September.

Violations of the law, which takes effect November 1, are punishable by up to four years in state prison. (S. 210)

In early August, Time magazine settled a libel suit filed by a former Washington Post Moscow bureau chief whom the magazine reported had accepted money from the KGB secret police. Time apologized to reporter Dusko Doder, who had sued the magazine in 1993 in Britain, and agreed to pay him an estimated $270,000 plus legal fees. In a statement read in London’s High Court, Time expressed its “sincere regret and apologies to the plaintiff for any distress or embarrassment that he has been caused,” according to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times. (Doder v. Time Warner Inc.)

In mid-July, a federal District Court in New York dismissed the last remaining claim in a libel suit filed by the Church of Scientology against Time magazine over a 1992 article entitled “Scientology: the Cult of Greed.”

In two previous rulings, the court had dismissed 11 of the 12 claims over statements the church argued were false and defamatory. The sole remaining claim was based on a statement that read “one source of funds for the Los Angeles-based church is the notorious, self-regulated stock exchange in Vancouver, British Columbia, often called the scam capital of the world.”

The court held that since it had already ruled that the other statements were not actionable because no reasonable jury could find that they were published with actual malice, and that the sole remaining statement was subsidiary to the larger views expressed in the article, the suit based on this one remaining statement must be dismissed. (Church of Scientology International v. Time Warner Inc.)