Decency Act Blocked

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PHILADELPHIA: In a major decision reaffirming guarantees of free speech, three federal judges blocked enforcement of the Communications Decency Act Wednesday, ruling that the Internet is protected by the First Amendment. Passed as part of the 1995 omnibus telecommunications overhaul bill, the act would make displaying "indecent" and "patently offensive" words or images on the Internet punishable by a $250,000 fine and two years in jail. For the Philadelphia judges, the key stumbling block was the question of whether the Internet could be regulated like a broadcast medium regarding indecency. Free speech, even indecent speech, is guaranteed by the First Amendment. But courts have ruled that in broadcast media like radio and TV, some forms of expression may be considered unsuitable for part or all of the broadcast day. "The Internet deserves at least as much protection as print," wrote the judges. "As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion." The decision is at least a temporary victory for the ACLU, which along with 57 other organizations had filed suit against the act once it passed. "The ACLU argued that no additional laws were needed to regulate the Internet," says TIME's Philip Elmer-DeWitt. "Child pornography and obscenity are already illegal and the government has been very effective in dealing with infractions." The Philadelphia panel's decision was the first major judicial ruling concerning the Internet. According to provisions in the law, the case will now be heard by the Supreme Court. -->