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"Communications Decency Act II" attached to spending bill in Senate

July 22, 1998
Web posted at: 3:51 PM PT

by Bob Trott

(IDG) -- The U.S. Senate on Wednesday is expected to vote on an appropriations bill that includes amendments -- the so-called "Communications Decency Act II" (CDA II) -- making it a crime for Web sites to allow minors to view material that is "harmful."

The amendments, attached to legislation outlining spending for the U.S. Commerce, State, and Justice departments, would apply to any content that includes nudity, sex, or "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific" value. The measure, which calls for penalties of up to $50,000 in fines and six months in prison, was sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana.

The appropriations bill also includes an amendment sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and John McCain, R-Arizona, that would require schools and libraries receiving federal funds for Internet connections to install filtering software to block "inappropriate" material.

Barry Steinhardt, president of the watchdog organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), urged lawmakers to reject the amendments.

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"At first glance, the Coats' CDA II bill appears to be a relatively benign provision that purportedly applies only to commercial pornographers who market to minors, but it is a Trojan horse," Steinhardt said. "Beneath the veneer, it covers any Web site that has a commercial component and which has material that some community will consider 'harmful to minors.' This ranges from the electronic bookseller Amazon.com to the EFF's site, which sells books and T-shirts."

If approved by the Senate, the bill would go to the House for approval. The two chambers would have to reconcile any differences before final votes are taken.

The CDA, which made it illegal to send "indecent" material to minors over the Internet, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said it was too broad.

Bob Trott is InfoWorld's Seattle correspondent.

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