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Industry leaders pile on Decency Act

As reported last week by CNET, industry leaders including Microsoft, Apple, America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy, have joined together to file a lawsuit to overturn the Communications Decency Act.

As reported last week by CNET, industry leaders including Microsoft, Apple, America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy, have joined together to file a lawsuit today in a Philadelphia Federal Court to overturn the Communications Decency Act.

The group of vendors, which is calling itself the Cititzens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC--pronounced "seek"), is headed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, America Online, and the American Library Association. Its 35 members include software vendors, online service providers, libraries, book publishers, newspaper publishers, editors, advertisers, nonprofit groups, and civil liberties advocates.

The new lawsuit takes a different approach from the lawsuit already filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and others.

"The ACLU got the ball rolling. They are arguing an important element of the case, which is to say, how the hell am I supposed to know what's indecent?" said Jonah Seiger, a policy analyst with the CDT. "We will argue that, too, but beyond that, we will emphasize specifically how the Internet works."

The new 55-page complaint details the history of the Internet and outlines how the network operates. The CIEC intends to educate the court on how the Internet functions. The complaint argues that:

--The Internet is a unique communications medium that deserves First Amendment protections at least as broad as those afforded to print media.

--Individual users and parents, not the federal government, should determine for themselves and their children what material comes into their homes based on their own tastes and values.

--The CDA will be ineffective in protecting children from "indecent" or "patently offensive" material online.

"We all share the goal of protecting children. Unfortunately, Congress passed this law without a full understanding of the many technological tools available and under development that empower parents, rather than the government, to determine what their children receive on the Internet," said Steve Case, CEO of America Online, in a written statement submitted with the complaint.

The lawsuit will also focus on how the Net is different from telephones, print, and television, Seiger said. "Broad content regulations are unconstitutional because the Internet is a different medium. Under this legislation, the same material that's legal today in books, magazines, and record stores would be illegal if made available in a public forum on the Internet. That's about as clear a violation of the First Amendment as possible."

The ACLU succeeded last week in persuading the government to extend the temporary restraining order on the CDA until the ACLU starts its court case next month. Although the lawsuits have been filed separately, Seiger expects them to be combined at some point into one case.

"These cases will determine the future of both the Internet itself as a viable means of free expression as well as the future of the First Amendment and whether or not it can survive in this information age," said Seiger.

In addition to the suit, the CIEC is encouraging individual Internet users to join online protests intended to help overturn the act.