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States enforce own Net laws

Several states have already passed their own laws to regulate online content, and it's unclear how the Supreme Court decision will effect them.

While the American Civil Liberties Union has been battling the Communications Decency Act, the states have not been idle in regulating red-light districts on the Web.

Several states have pursued their own laws to govern online access by minors and adults to questionable material. And itis not at all clear how the Supreme Court's decision will affect these laws. If they are allowed to stand, enforcing them will mean defining community standards of what is and isn't "indecent"--interpretations that will vary widely across the country.

New York: The best-known online decency law at the state level was knocked down by a federal court in New York last Friday. Like the CDA, the New York law targeted Net users who made "harmful" material depicting "actual or simulated nudity, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse" available to minors over the Net. Violators would have been punished with up to four years in prison. The law was passed last November.

Although the suit filed against the law by the American Library Association and the ACLU argued that the law violated the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska's decision didn't address the free speech issue.

Instead, she ruled that the New York law violated the Constitution's interstate commerce clause, which prohibits one state from regulating another's commercial activity.

Oklahoma: A law passed in May of 1996 prohibits employees at state agencies and educational institutions from storing obscene material on their computer systems. University of Oklahoma professor Bill Loving has challenged the law at higher institutions of learning.

A separate Oklahoma law adopted in April of 1995 makes it illegal to transmit material over the Net deemed "harmful to minors."

Virginia: The state restricts use of publicly funded computers to search for, post, print, or store "sexually explicit" material "showing the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple" or images of "sexual bestiality, sexual excitement, conduct or sadomasochistic abuse, human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks." The law took effect July 1, 1996.

In May, six professors challenged the law on the grounds that it violates their First Amendment rights to speak and teach freely.

California: The state last December extended an existing law defining obscenity and child pornography statutes to prohibit transmission of pornographic images by computer.

Legislation pending in the state's judiciary committee would also make it a crime for adults to seduce a minor or to distribute "harmful" material to children using the Internet, email, or a commercial online service.

Illinois and North Carolina: These states passed laws in 1995 and 1996 respectively to prohibit the use of a computer for the sexual solicitation of a minor.

Kansas, Maryland, Montana, and Texas: All four states have extended child pornography statutes to prohibit the distribution of pornographic images over computer networks or the storage of such images on a computer.

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