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Supreme Court rules CDA unconstitutional

CDA June 26, 1997
Web posted at: 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision on Internet censorship, ruled Thursday that the Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional.

In delivering its decision, the court sided with earlier rulings barring enforcement of the 1996 legislation, which Congress passed without hearings as a last-minute addition to the sweeping Telecommunications Act.

Two federal appeals panels ruled unanimously last year that the law violated the free speech protections of the First Amendment.

The Communications Decency Act was crafted to protect society, especially children, from sexually graphic material transmitted through the Internet.

Opponents of the bill have argued that the legislation is far too broad and is unconstitutional. They also claimed that lawmakers and prosecutors have only a vague idea of what the Internet is.

The law made it a crime punishable by two years in prison and a $250,000 fine to transmit indecent material over the Internet to minors. The legislation defines indecency as material that "depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs."

That definition, according to CDA opponents, is too vague and leaves enforcement of the law up to the subjectivity of authorities. Supporters of the bill say the law is needed to protect Internet-savvy children from having easy access to sexually explicit material.

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