The US Supreme Court is set to make a landmark ruling on Internet censorship after service providers, civil liberties groups and healthcare lobbyists challenged new laws. They claim the Communications Decency Act breaches the country?s First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.
The ruling, which will establish a benchmark for future regulation of the Internet, will focus on the CDA, a law passed in February with the backing of the Clinton administration, which makes it a criminal offence to transmit indecent material to minors.
The law should have come into effect in June, but following objections from 50 companies and lobby groups, a three-judge federal court in Philadelphia declared that the act was unconstitutional in parts and its restrictions were "profoundly repugnant".
The court warned that the Internet needed protection against government intrusion. In a written opinion, US district court judge Stewart Dalzell warned: "Any content-based regulation of the Internet could burn the global village to roast the pig."
But this week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Justice Department appeal to overturn the Philadelphia ruling. Oral submissions will be heard by nine Supreme Court judges in March next year with a ruling expected by July.
Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor for the Justice Department, said the Philadelphia ruling had to be challenged because it "imperils the government?s ability to protect children from exposure to the sexually explicit material that is now widely disseminated on the Internet".
The Communications Decency Act bars the distribution of indecent material on the Internet. It defines as indecent anything that "depicts or describes in terms patently offensive, as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs". Anyone found guilty under the terms of the Act faces two years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
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