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Judge blocks Decency Act for now

A federal judge yesterday issued a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the Communications Decency Act provision of the telecommunications bill passed into law last week.

A federal judge yesterday issued a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) provision of the telecommunications bill passed into law last week.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter said the law failed to define the word indecent, and agreed that the CDA is "unconsitutionally vague."

The judge acted against the recommendation of the Justice Department, which yesterday asked the judge to reject a restraining order requested by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 19 other groups in a lawsuit filed last week.

The restraining order will stay in effect until he hears arguments from the ACLU and other parties to the suit.

The ACLU and its allies are opposed to the decency law that makes it a crime to transmit sexually explicit material to minors over the Net. Anyone found guilty could face up to two years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

The lawsuit charges that the implications of the bill are too broad and that if it goes unchallenged it would mean that even works of art could come under scrutiny simply because of their sexual connotations.

Some free speech activists expect the fight to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The law defines decency as "any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs."

In its written response to the lawsuit issued yesterday, the Justice Department said: "Individuals undoubtedly have an important interest in being free of purposeful and direct intrusions on First Amendment freedom. But the government interests at stake here in controlling access by minors in indecent sexually explicit materials is compelling."