Another Attack Against Free Speech Online
June 15, 2006
Filed under Free Expression
A group of lawmakers today introduced a http://www.cdt.org/speech/20060615safetyact.pdf "> bill that would require Web site operators to place tags on any Web page containing sexually explicit material, or face up to 15 years in prison for violating the statute. The bill is the latest in a long line of measures -- ostensibly aimed at protecting kids from harmful material -- that would have sweeping consequences for the free speech rights of law-abiding adult Internet users. We'll be putting out a more in-depth analysis of the measure soon, but even an initial review of the bill reveals that it would have implications that stretch far beyond the adult content industry. The legislation would create a classic "chilling effect," leaving bloggers, artists and even health advocates to either censor themselves or run the risk of serving jail time. The definition of "sexually explicit" is extremely broad and would sweep in sexually suggestive content that contains no nudity. The legislation would apply to a broad range of sites, including safe sex sites and artists web sites. Equally troubling is that the bill willfully ignores -- and potentially even undercuts -- viable, market-driven rating, evaluation and filtering programs that are already helping parents tailor their children's Internet experiences. In place of those tools, the bill proposes a mandatory labeling system that will do nothing to limit the exposure of young people to potentially harmful Internet material. Even if this measure were to protect children from all U.S.-based adult content, a virtual impossibility, it still would do nothing to restrict the vast amounts of adult content hosted outside of the country, beyond the reach of U.S. laws. If passed the legislation would stifle legitimate important speech in the United States, while accomplishing nothing to make children safer. We'll follow the measure closely and keep you updated.