On Thursday we sent a pair of letters to the Hill opposing legislation that would force Web site operators to tag a broad range of legal, socially valuable material with a government-approved warning label identifying the material as "sexually explicit." The move is the latest congressional effort to place unconstitutional controls on Internet content.
CDT sent one letter
to the Commerce Committee, which included the labeling provision in a major telecom bill, and another
to the appropriations committee, urging lawmakers to remove the measure from the massive Science-Commerce-Justice-State appropriations package, to which it was recently appended.
What's particularly troubling is that lawmakers have added the labeling mandate to two unrelated bills without any hearings or debate. Worse still, the committees that included the labeling language do not have any jurisdiction over the issue. The labeling mandate is in fact a criminal law that authorizes stiff prison sentences for violators. That jurisdiction rests with the Judiciary Committees, which have never considered the legislation. This is stealth legislating at its worst. Unless the labeling language is stripped from these bills, Congress may create a wholly new crime that targets individuals engaged in legal and constitutionally protected conduct, without any consideration of the consequences. I seem to remember that the Senate used to be considered America's "greatest deliberative body."
Here's the first problem with mandatory labeling -- it will do nothing to protect kids. Hundreds of thousands of objectionable Web sites are operated well outside of U.S.