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March 1995, Week 5


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Jeremy Butler <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 29 Mar 1995 09:31:45 CST
text/plain (288 lines)
(Moderator's note:  I've hesitated to post information about the
"Communications Decency Act of 1995" because it is pretty far afield from
film/TV studies, but I've finally become convinced that it could severely
restrict the flow of information and is thus a threat to SCREEN-L's
existence.  Consequently, I somewhat belatedly pass along the following
from the Electronic Freedom Foundation.)
           Update: - Battle lost in the Senate Commerce Committee, Exon
                     bill attached to telecomm reform bill despite massive
                     public outrage
                   - Commerce committee deluged with calls
                     DO NOT REDISTRIBUTE AFTER April 14, 1995
                                Mar. 23, 1995
      Distributed by the Voters Telecommunications Watch ([log in to unmask])
[3/23/95 UPDATE:
 Despite overwhelming public outrage to the contrary, the Senate
 Commerce Committee unanimously voted to attach a modified version of
 the Exon bill to the telecommunications reform bill.  The modified
 version exempts carriers from liability, but makes the restrictions
 on the creators of content (postings, mail, images, etc) even more
 onerous than before.
 The entire committee chose to do this, even though their phone were
 jammed so heavily that outside help had to be brought in to
 assist in taking the calls.
 This didn't happen because of a lack of public support; it happened
 because the legislators didn't think before they voted.
 We're still trying to get copies of the amendment distributed and
 analyzed.  More news and action alerts next week.
Dear Net Citizens:
Legislation has been introduced before the Senate which would severely
restrict your freedom of speech, halt the free flow of information on
the net, and require all telecommunications carriers to censor your
public and private communications.
The "Communications Decency Act of 1995" (S. 314), introduced in early
February by Senators Exon (D-NE) and Gorton (R-WA), would place
substantial criminal liability on telecommunications carriers (including
traditional telephone networks, Internet service providers, commercial
online services such as America Online and Compuserve, and independent
BBS's) whenever their networks are used to transmit any material
which is deemed indecent or harassing.  In order to avoid these penalties,
carriers would be forced to restrict the activities of their subscribers
and censor all public and private communications.
We must act quickly to stop the progress of S. 314.  The bill may soon be
incorporated into Senate telecommunications reform legislation, which is
currently being drafted by the Senate Commerce Committee.  The
telecommunications reform bill may be introduced as early as mid March,
and is expected to be considered on a fast track.  If S. 314 is included
in this bill, it will be extremely difficult to change or remove and
could pass quickly.
We are asking you to join us in urging key members of the Senate to
prevent S. 314 from being included in Senate telecommunications reform
measures and to hold open, public hearings on the issue.
CURRENT STATUS OF S. 314/H.R. 1004  [as of March 20, 1995]
The bill was introduced on February 1, 1995 by Senators Exon (D-NE) and
Gorton (R-WA).  It is currently pending before the Senate Commerce
Committee (chaired by Senator Pressler (R-SD)).
No committee action has been scheduled as of March 9, 1995.
The telecommunications reform bill is scheduled for hearing starting
March 21, 1995.  It is possible that S. 314 will be folded into the
bill during markup next week.
H.R. 1004 (worded the same as S. 314) was introduced on February 21,
1995 in the House by Representative Johnson (SD) and has been referred
to the House Commerce and Judiciary committees.
No committee actions in the House have been scheduled as of March 17, 1995.
S. 314 would expand current law restricting indecency and harassment on
telephone services to all telecommunications providers and expand
criminal liability to all content carried by all forms of
telecommunications networks.  The bill would amend Section 223 of the
Communications Act (47 U.S.C. 223), which requires carriers to take
steps to prevent minors from gaining access to indecent audiotext and
criminalizes harassment accomplished over interstate telephone lines.
If enacted, S. 314 would compel service providers to severely restrict
your online activities.  Your access to email, discussion lists, usenet,
the world wide web, gopher, and ftp archives would be substantially
reduced or cut off entirely. The bill would also force providers to
closely monitor and pre-screen your electronic mail, and refuse to
transmit any message or other content which may be considered to be
This bill poses a significant threat to freedom of speech and the free
flow of information in cyberspace. The bill also raises fundamental
questions about the right of government to control content on
communications networks, as well as the locus of liability for content
carried in these new communications media.
Recently, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has requested the Center for
Democracy and Technology's Public Interest/Industry working group IWG
(Interactive Working Group) to explore other solutions to the problems
that S. 314 attempts to solve.  The working group must be allowed to
examine current legislation and explore technical alternatives that are
consistent with the First Amendment and the free flow of information.
We've received over 400 messages in two weeks, with our log showing
over 700 letters, faxes, phone calls, and email messages (many people
contacted more than one Senator. At least two respondents wrote all 19
members of the committee!)  Of course many more people have probably
contacted Congress without sending that note to VTW.
Almost 200 messages went to Pressler, who may be getting the point.
His staff told one caller, "Why are you calling us? It's Exon's bill!"
(This is why phone calls to Pressler are so important.)
One citizen wrote to Senator Gorton, a co-sponsor:
        "I, frankly, am amazed at the audacity of your proposed
         bill. We are not children sir, nor do we need your
         misplaced guidance in raising our children!"
Along the same lines, another wrote to his own Senator:
        "While I am pleased, being an enthusiastic supporter of
         anti-harassment legislation, with many of the provisions of
         this bill, I am frankly astounded and appalled with others."
Someone came up with metaphor that frankly we aren't clever enough to
have thought of:
        "A few years ago, a tanker laden with a crude, noxious substance
         ran aground in the virginal territories of the Alaskan coastline.
         It poisoned the land and sea for many miles around.... We are now
         faced with another 'Exon Valdez'...  a vehicle filled with crude
         legislation, currently at risk of running ashore on our pristine
Finally, someone writing to Pressler spoke for all of us to all of us:
 "At a time when communications between ordinary citizens has
         been all but drowned out by the barrage of mass media, online
         communication has become the last bastion of real citizen
         deliberation and has become the "public square" so to speak,
         of the nation.  This bill would destroy this great experiment
         in the rejuvenation of grassroots democracy.  Please do all
         you can to prevent its passage."
We are encouraged by the success so far of the campaign, and hope that
you take the time to participate at this crucial time.
The Voters Telecommunications Watch has set up a gopher page where
you can get a copy of the bill (including analyses by the American
Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the
Electronic Messaging Association, and others).  Here's the URL:
 WWW URL: gopher://
 Gopher command : gopher -p 1/vtw/exon
If you have difficulty getting to this gopher page, or if you don't
have access to Mosaic/gopher, drop a note to:
 [log in to unmask]
1. Contact Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD, Commerce Committee Chairman),
   Sen. J.J. Exon (D-NE, sponsor of the bill), and Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR,
   Chairman, Communications Subcommittee).
   Note: although contacting your own Senators is important, these
   members hold the keys at this point in time.  If you want to contact
   your own Senators, that's great, but between now and Thursday [March 23,
   1995] Pressler, Exon and Packwood are the ones to focus on.
   Time is of the essence: *Phone calls* are best, faxes only partially
   effective, email has the least impact.
      P ST Name and Address           Phone           Fax
      = == ========================   ==============  ==============
      R SD Pressler, Larry            1-202-224-5842  1-202-224-1259*
            243 RSOB                    [log in to unmask]
            Washington, D.C. 20510
            *Note this is the Senate Commercommittee's fax machine
      D NE Exon, J. J.                1-202-224-4224  1-202-224-5213
            528 HSOB
            Washington, D.C. 20510
      R OR Packwood, Robert           1-202-224-5244  1-202-228-3576
            259 RSOB
            Washington, D.C. 20510
   Urge them to keep S.314 from being incorporated into
   telecommunications reform legislation and to support Senator Leahy's
   efforts to explore alternatives to the Exon bill.  Follow the communique
   at the bottom if you need to.
2. Feel free to use the following communique:
 I'm a resident of _______.  Please support Senator Leahy's
 efforts to explore alternatives to S. 314.  Please keep S. 314
 out of the telecommunications reform bill, and remove S. 314
 from the fast track.
   See below for a brief description of Leahy's initiative. His letter
   to CDT is in the VTW gopher.
   Concern over S.314 is not limited to the U.S. Among many international
   expressions of support, two have stood out in the first two weeks.
   EF-Australia is a member of the growing coalition, and IndiaNet has
   circulated our alert widely. If you are not a citizen of the United
   you can still express your concern. A sample message to Senator Pressler
 Dear Senator Pressler:
 The Exon bill will cripple the U.S. portion of the Internet
 and thereby devastate the growing global information community.
 Internation commerce and social and political cooperation will
 suffer greatly. I urge you to refrain from incorporating S.314
 into any telecommunications reform legislation and to support
 Senator's Leahy initiatives to explore alternatives to S314.
   Both US citizens and non-US citizens should remember to be polite
   when speaking to legislators, even their own.
3. DON'T FORGET TO DROP A NOTE TO [log in to unmask] to tell us who you contacted.
   (See below for FTN -> Internet emailing instructions.)
   We'll tally the results and feed them back to all participating
   organizations.  It's crucial we have this feedback, even if you just
   got a form letter, or a "thank you" to your phone call.
   Please, when you report back, tell us what state you are in!  This
   will help us track constituent calls, which are the most effective.
4. Feel good about yourself.  You've just participated in democracy
   without leaving your seat.
5. (Extra bonus activism)  Pass this alert to your friends, especially if
   they're in South Dakota, Nebraska, or Oregon.  These states need to
   have as much constituent contact with their Senators as possible.
   Also, you might send a thank-you note to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for
   his continuing efforts on behalf of free speech and the free flow of
   information in cyberspace.  He can be reached at:
      P ST Name and Address           Phone           Fax
      = == ========================   ==============  ==============
      D VT Leahy, Patrick J.          1-202-224-4242  1-202-224-3595
            433 RSOB                    [log in to unmask]
            Washington, D.C. 20510
   Don't forget to Cc: [log in to unmask] on your mail to him, so we can tally
   the response.