Saturday, December 15

Blue ribbons fly in protest


Tuesday, April 23, 1996

Supporters say decency act is unconstitutionalBy Jason
Packman

Daily Bruin Contributor

From AIDS to fighting racism in Hollywood, many different causes
use a simple ribbon to show their concern.

Now, the Internet community has added the color blue to the
rainbow of ribbon protests.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has begun a protest
against what it perceives as attacks on freedom of speech and
expression in cyberspace.

The "Blue Ribbon Campaign for On-line Freedom of Speech, Press,
and Association," asks computer users to place a graphic of a blue
ribbon on their web pages to protest the Communications Decency
Act. The constitutionality of the act is currently being decided by
the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

One provision of the massive Telecommunications Bill bans
"obscene or indecent" material from the Internet.

Detractors of the Communications Decency Act argue that it will
stifle freedom of speech on the Internet. Those who attack the bill
believe that the act goes too far in banning material from the
‘Net.

"The voices of reason know that free speech doesn’t equate to
sexual harassment, abuse of children or the breeding of hatred or
intolerance," the foundation wrote on its Blue Ribbon web site. "We
insist that any material that is legal in bookstores, newspapers,
or public libraries must be legal on-line."

The Blue Ribbon campaign began spontaneously at the Digital
Be-In, a convention sponsored by Verbum Magazine.

"We just had a bowl full of real blue ribbons, and a sign
saying, ‘If you support EFF, wear a ribbon!’ Later, we generalized
the idea to be a free speech symbol," said Stanton McCandish, EFF’s
webmaster and an on-line activist.

Even many people using the net are not aware of the issues, and
a strongly resonant symbol like the ribbon, helps raise awareness,
McCandish said.

The Daily Bruin OnLine has had the blue ribbon on its page since
the Telecommunications Bill passed in February, said Laurel Davis,
the Daily Bruin’s electronic media director. The legislation could
directly effect the Daily Bruin and other college newspapers, she
added.

"College papers are at risk because they push the line of
content," Davis said, adding that the act would be difficult to
enforce even if the court found it was constitutional.

McCandish added that the EFF plans to continue its protest
campaign "until there is no more on-line censorship."

However, supporters of the Decency Act said that it will keep
children from material that their parents cannot stop them from
seeing.

Cathy Cleaver, director of Legal Counsel at the Family Research
Council, said that the Decency Act is an important step towards
protecting children. Cleaver said that the legislation closed a
loophole that made transmission of indecent material to children
legal.

"There was no law whatsoever that would have prohibited (adults)
from sending, for instance, the content of a ‘Playboy’ or ‘Hustler’
magazine attached to an e-mail for instance," she explained.

Cleaver also said that she didn’t believe that content of
serious works of art would be threatened by the Decency Act.

"Throughout the long history of the indecency standard, it has
not been used successfully against serious works of art, but only
those things that are either pornographic or patently offensive
pornographic text or speech," Cleaver said. "(Pornographic
material) is the type of material that the Supreme Court has said
that children can be protected from.

"We believe that (the Decency Act) goes far enough and doesn’t
go too far," she added.

However, the foundation disagreed with Cleaver. On its homepage,
the foundation lists several websites that could be considered
"indecent," including The King James Bible, Upton Sinclair’s "The
Jungle," and graphics of the Sistine Chapel.

"(We) believe that personal and parental choice is the best
filtering mechanism of content on the Internet," it stated on their
web site.

However, Cleaver compared the Decency Act to illegal drug
trafficking laws, and said that parents will still need to be
paying attention to what there children are seeing on-line, even if
the act is found constitutional.

"This law wasn’t designed to substitute for parental
involvement," Cleaver said. "In fact, parental involvement will be
just as necessary after the law because there will be those that
break the law and there will be much on the Internet that parents
will be concerned about."

At the moment, though, the courts are deciding whether the
decency act is constitutional. The hearings, held before the U.S.
Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded last week.

Final arguments will be held on May 10, with the court ruling
sometime in mid-June. Under provisions in the Telecommunications
Act, any appeal will go directly to the Supreme Court.

The Blue Ribbon campaign site is located at

http://www.eff.org/blueribbon.html.

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