ACLU Defends Free Speech Online
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ACLU v. Miller
June 20, 1997
A federal district judge struck down a Georgia law criminalizing online anonymous speech and the use of trademarked logos as Web links. The court agreed with the ACLU, Electronic Frontiers Georgia and others that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad because it barred online users from using pseudonyms or communicating anonymously over the Internet. The Act also unconstitutionally restricted the use of links to allow users to connect to other sites.
ALA v. Pataki
June 20, 1997
In a case brought by the ACLU, a federal district judge blocked New York State from enforcing its version of the federal Communications Decency Act CDA. In ALA v. Pataki, Federal District Judge Loretta A. Preska issued a preliminary injunction against the New York law, calling the Internet an area of commerce that should be marked off as a "national preserve" to protect online speakers from inconsistent laws that could "paralyze development of the Internet altogether."
ACLU v. Reno
June 27, 1997
In an overwhelming victory for Internet free speech, the Supreme Court ruled in Reno v. ACLU that the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, affirming a lower court decision. In a landmark 7-2 decision written by Justice Stevens, the Court ruled that the CDA places an "unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech," that "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community." Justice O'Connor, with Chief Justice Rehnquist, concurred with the judgment while dissenting in part along more narrow lines.
ACLU v. Johnson
November 2, 1999
In the first ruling of its kind, a federal appeals court rejected a state law banning Internet speech deemed "harmful to minors," saying that such laws censor valuable speech for adults. The ACLU had challenged New Mexico's law, which would have made it a crime to disseminate online expression that involves "nudity" or "sexual conduct."
Doe v. 2themart.com
April 27, 2001
In this 2001 case, the ACLU of Washington and the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked a federal court to quash a subpoena that would force an Internet service to disclose the identity of a person who spoke anonymously on an online bulletin board. The district court allowed the “John Doe” Internet poster to object to the subpoena and sustained the objection.
Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition
April 16, 2002
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Congress' attempt to expand the definition of child pornography, saying that the law "prohibits speech despite its serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case together with its Northern California office.
U.S. v. Multnomah County Library and U.S. v. American Library Association
June 23, 2003
Acting on behalf of public libraries, library patrons and website authors nationwide, the ACLU challenged the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2001. The law, passed in December 2000, requires any library receiving certain forms of federal aid to install Web "blocking" programs that censor a wide range of valuable material for adults and minors. The Supreme Court, while ruling that Congress can force public libraries to install blocking software on Internet terminals, minimized the law's impact on adults, who can insist that the software be disabled.
Ashcroft v. ACLU
June 29, 2004
Recognizing the severe consequences of criminalizing online free speech, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), saying that content-based prohibitions of speech "have the constant potential to be a repressive force in the lives and thoughts of a free people." COPA would impose draconian criminal sanctions, with penalties of up to $50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment, for online material acknowledged as valuable for adults but judged "harmful to minors."
Gonzales v. Google
March 18, 2006
A California federal court rejected the government’s demand for millions of Google search records, saying it had not justified the need for obtaining massive amounts of consumer information. The government sought the records, claiming they were needed to defend COPA against the ACLU challenge in Ashcroft v. ACLU. But the ACLU said that the government failed to describe how the millions of Google user records will help it to determine how much material deemed “harmful to minors” is available online. The judge ruled in favor of the ACLU and Google, giving the government limited access only to information not related to user searches.