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Suit filed to challenge state Internet censorship law

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Suit filed to challenge state Internet censorship law 01/27/97 NEW YORK--In mid-January, a group of legal, publishing, literacy and Internet…

Suit filed to challenge state Internet censorship law

01/27/97

NEW YORK–In mid-January, a group of legal, publishing, literacy and Internet organizations filed a complaint in federal District Court in Manhattan challenging on numerous grounds New York’s recently enacted Internet censorship law. Under the new law, it is a felony to use a computer communication system to disseminate “indecent” material that is “harmful to minors.”

The plaintiffs assert that the statute violates the First Amendment because it bans constitutionally protected speech by and to adults, interferes with the rights of minors to access and view material that is not harmful to them, and prohibits the dissemination of any material with sexual content that is “harmful” to minors of any age, despite the fact that the material will not be “harmful” to all minors.

The complaint emphasizes that the speech addressed by the statute does not include the type of speech typically found to lack First Amendment protection, such as obscenity, child pornography, speech used to entice or lure minors into inappropriate activity, or harassing speech.

According to the plaintiffs, the act also violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it regulates commerce occurring wholly outside of the state of New York, imposes an impermissible burden on interstate and foreign commerce and subjects interstate use of the Internet to inconsistent state regulations.

The plaintiffs draw parallels between the New York law and the federal Communications Decency Act. Both the CDA and the act attempt to restrict minors from having access to certain types of “indecency.” The CDA was struck down by two U.S. circuit courts, and its constitutionality is due to be argued before the Supreme Court this term.

The plaintiffs seek to enjoin the defendants from enforcing the statute and a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional. Groups involved in the challenge include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of American Publishers, Magazine Publishers of America and Art on the Net. (American Library Association v. Pataki)