Communications Decency Act

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The Communications Decency Act ( CDA ) was part of the US Telecommunications Act of 1996 . The law was passed by the US Congress on February 6, 1996 . Its main goal was to regulate pornography on the internet . Activists , civil rights movements like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who fought for freedom of expression , however, almost completely rebuilt the CDA. The result was a law that encouraged freedom of expression, since from now on no information provider on the Internet had to fear being held responsible for the contributions of his customers. The impetus for this was a controversial ruling in 1995 in the Straton Oakmont Inc. & Daniel Porush / Prodigy Services Company case , in which the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Prodigy was responsible for the choice of words for its customers she had the ability to delete objectionable posts.

Terrestrial TV and radio "indecency" was already regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - broadcasting content in objectionable language was restricted to certain times of the day when minors were unlikely to be among the audience or audience. Violations could be punished with fines or even the withdrawal of the license.

The CDA contained a number of provisions that made showing or transferring material of a violent or sexual nature to minors a criminal offense. Affected were the Internet and cable television , which were previously not covered by FCC regulations. In Pennsylvania , on June 12, 1996, portions of the CDA were invalidated by federal judges on the grounds that they violated adult freedom of expression. A month later, on July 29, a federal court ruled that the entire CDA section dealing with protecting children from nuisance was too far-reaching. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court on July 26, 1997 (Reno vs. ACLU). The parts of the CDA in question represent a violation of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution , which guarantees freedom of expression.

The CDA has been criticized for banning the posting of “indecent” or “obviously objectionable” material on internet forums, which many have seen as too ambiguous and misinterpretable. Opponents argued that it would make statements under the first amendment, such as printed novels or the use of the seven dirty words, suddenly illegal if posted on the Internet. It was also criticized that the Act also had a negative impact on the free availability of medical information.

Section 230 of the CDA added valuable protection to the law for Internet service providers and users from action against them that could result from the actions of third parties. It literally states that no provider or user of an interactive computer offer may be treated as the author of information that comes from another information provider. This part of the CDA, the so-called provider privilege , remains in force.

Cases related to the CDA include:

Similar laws

A narrower version of this law with a focus on the Internet was later passed in the form of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). The COPA was invalidated by lower courts in January 1999, relying on precedents from the time the CDA was dismantled. The COPA appeals were rejected in early 2009.

The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (part of the DMCA ) protects internet service providers from liability to their customers for removing material at the request of copyright holders.

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