ACLU to Take the Stand in Third Day of Testimony

March 29, 1996 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — The American Civil Liberties Union is preparing to take the stand in the third day of hearings before a federal three- judge panel to determine the future of free speech in cyberspace.

The ACLU will act both as plaintiff and legal challenger in the courtroom on Monday, April 1, as national associate director Barry Steinhardt offers testimony on why it is technically and economically infeasible for the ACLU (and other online content providers) to implement the censorship law.

Steinhardt’s testimony also champions minors’ access to the ACLU’s online resources and cites fear of criminal penalties for providing so-called “indecent” material online, including information on women’s access to abortion.

The consolidated cases of ACLU v. Reno and American Library Association v. U.S. Department of Justice challenge provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that criminalize making available to minors “indecent” or “patently offensive” speech via the Internet.

Other witnesses to testify on Monday for the ACLU are Howard Rheingold, author and expert on cyberspace communities, and Stephen Donaldson, president of Stop Prisoner Rape, another ACLU plaintiff. Plaintiff Brock Meeks, author of the irreverent CyberWire Dispatch, will be present in the courtroom as an observer.

According to procedures laid out by the judges, direct testimony in ACLU v. Reno is submitted by affidavit. Each side has an opportunity to cross-examine the opposing witnesses, although they can decline to do so for any reason. The judges can also question the witnesses from the bench, whether or not the witnesses are cross- examined, as they did last week when government lawyers declined to question ACLU plaintiffs Patricia Nell Warren and Kiyoshi Kuromiya.

Witnesses for the ACLU and ALA coalitions scheduled to appear on April 1:

  • Barry Steinhardt, associate director, ACLU
  • Howard Rheingold, author and expert on cyberspace communities (ACLU)
  • Stephen Donaldson, president, Stop Prisoner Rape (ACLU)
  • Andrew Anker, president and CEO, HotWired (ALA)
  • Bill Burrington, assistant general counsel and dir. of public policy, America Online (ALA).

April 1 will be the final day of plaintiff witness testimony. The Department of Justice lawyers are expected to file a list of witnesses with the court on April 3, and will present their witnesses on April 12 and 15, 1996. A sixth day has been set for April 26, to allow the ACLU and ALA lawyers to present witnesses rebutting the government’s testimony.

Following these six days of trial, the judges will issue a ruling. Under expedited provisions, any appeal on rulings regarding the new censorship law will be made directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the ACLU appearing before the court are: Christopher Hansen, lead counsel, Marjorie Heins, Ann Beeson, and Stefan Presser, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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