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The Year in First Amendment Rights: Internet Censorship

James Tucker,
Washington Legislative Office
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January 3, 2008

In addition to net neutrality, the Internet faced threats in other areas too. We saw a number of bills sail through the House and the Senate that would increase censorship on the web under the guise of protecting our children.

H.R. 3791, the "Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act," or "SAFE" Act, relaxed federal criminal standards by expanding requirements for service providers to report "facts or circumstances that appear to indicate a violation" of child pornography laws. Actual knowledge was no longer required.

The SAFE Act purposefully evaded the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, chilled protected speech by coercing website managers to censor content and violated the privacy rights of users through forced disclosure of personal information. It rewarded these constitutional violations by enhancing immunity provisions, leaving innocent victims of improper disclosure with no recourse. Although the House passed the SAFE Act, the Senate did not take it up.

Similar bills that were named to conceal their restriction of core First Amendment rights, such as the inaptly titled S. 431, "Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators," or "KIDS" Act, advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee but did not get a floor vote. House Judiciary Committee leadership should be applauded for working with us to limit the First Amendment impact of the House companion to the KIDS Act, H.R. 719.

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