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Speech / First Amendment Law

Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union

(Actual Text)
By far the most important decision to date is Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union in which the Supreme Court essentially determined that the Internet was entitled to the highest degree of First Amendment protection and simultaneously demonstrated a substantial understanding of the nature, potential and problems posed by the Net. In Reno, the Court struck down two CDA provisions on the grounds that they were not narrowly tailored enough to justify the unacceptably heavy burden they placed on speech. The provisions prohibited the knowing transmission of obscene or indecent messages to any recipient under 18 and prohibited the knowing sending or displaying of patently offensive communications in a manner that is available to a person under 18.

The Court was particularly troubled that the provisions' vague definitions of prohibited communications would chill free speech on the Net about a variety of issues, such as birth control practices, homosexuality, and the consequences of prison rape, because Net users could not determine if such discussions would violate the CDA. The Court was also troubled by the breadth of the CDA's coverage which it found to be "wholly unprecedented," noting that the undefined terms "indecent" and "patently offensive" cover large amounts of non-pornographic material with serious educational or other value. The importance of the Reno decision can scarcely be exaggerated as it provides the definitive guide to Internet First Amendment issues for the foreseeable future.

Copyright SRBC 1998 up