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Newt's Reaction Could Alter Net Anti-Smut Measure

United States Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's opposition to an antiobscenity rider to the Telecommunications Act of 1995 may result in a less-restrictive version of the bill when it reaches the House next month, political analysts say.

This week Gingrich said the Senate version of the rider, which calls for fines and imprisonment for those who disseminate or generate obscene or sexually explicit materials over online services, violates First Amendment rights to free speech.

Although Gingrich's objections to the bill surprised many, the Speaker's supporters said the Georgia Republican has always taken a libertarian position on free speech issues.

"I think he's right," says Martin Levine, editor of the Digital Technology Report in Forest Hills, New York. "It's very difficult to legislate content on any network, particularly one that is based on a free and open exchange of ideas.''

The new version of the rider could give commercial online services such as America Online and CompuServe broader leeway to police their own information highway frontage roads.