In the continuing debate about Internet regulations, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will next month challange censorship laws in two separate cases in New York and Virginia.
A New York by-law, passed in September, makes it illegal to distribute so-called indecent material to under-17s either on paper or via the Net, while the Virginia law makes it a crime for state employees to use state-owned computers to access sexually explicit material.
ACLU argues that the New York law is too broad and restricts the activities of people over the age of 17. The Virginia case is a breach of freedom of speech principles, it contends.
In the New York case, which is likely to be filed in early January, ACLU is acting on behalf of the American Library Association as the main plaintiff among 15 others. The Association claims that the law would force librarians to restrict access to materials in their libraries for fear of prosecution.
The Virginia suit has been sparked by a professor at the state's George Mason University, who was told to take 'erotic material' off his Web site, prompting 10 other professors to take action. They argue that the material in question consists of academic articles on eroticism in literature.
Both cases are likely to be viewed as dry runs for the major Internet censorship case of 1997 when the US Supreme Court rules on whether the Communications Decency Act breaches the freedom of speech guarantees in the American Constitution's First Amendment.
The CDA, passed in February, prohibits the display or distribution of 'patently offensive' material. ACLU and other civil liberties and healthcare organisations are challenging the law by arguing that 'patently offensive' is too broad a term and open to abuse.
Earlier this year three federal judges in Manhatten ruled against the CDA, arguing that it was too broad in its remit and unconstitutional.
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