Conferees Debate Bid for Penalties on On-Line Pornography

By John Schwartz and Elizabeth Corcoran

Washington Post Staff Writers

November 9, 1995

Activists who want tough restrictions on on-line pornography are making a last-ditch effort to empower cops to walk the cyber-beat.

Lawmakers are taking up the issue in Congress in conference committee negotiations over provisions of a huge telecommunications bill.

Two conflicting provisions are attached to House and Senate versions of the bill, and the activists are fighting for the approach of the Senate legislation, which was sponsored by Sens. James Exon (D-Neb.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.).

The Senate version would criminalize "indecent" material on-line and establish stiff penalties for people and companies that transmit it. The proposal also calls for enforcement by the Federal Communications Commission.

The bill's House amendment, supported by Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), would expressly forbid regulation of content on the Internet, instead encouraging high-tech companies to come up with software that parents could use to block objectionable material from reaching their children.

On both sides of the fight are conservatives, who are split over how much power to give the government over the Internet. Letters to lawmakers from two coalitions of conservative activists make the differences clear.

One letter, which has been circulating since late last month, calls for "the strongest possible criminal law provisions" against computer pornography.

Among those signing it are former attorney general Edwin Meese III, Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum and Donald E. Wildmon of the American Family Association.

The other letter, obtained yesterday by The Washington Post, says that "content regulation of cyber-speech will unduly chill free expression and needlessly undermine the vitality of the on-line/Internet market."

It is signed by George A. Keyworth II and Jeffrey Eisenach of the Gingrich-affiliated Progress and Freedom Foundation, as well as scholars at several other conservative Washington-based think tanks, including the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Within recent months, the high-tech community has jointly sponsored a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who are developing standards that would enable many companies to build filters for blocking objectionable material.

Other companies have already announced early products of their own.

Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said such tools, "which were more ideas than reality six months ago, are reality now." Miller's group is a co-sponsor of the work at MIT.

Adam D. Thierer, who is a Heritage Foundation fellow like Meese but signed the anti-regulation letter, said "We don't want the Big Brother approach, and at the end of the day the conservative movement will come around to realizing that ultimately the same solutions we've applied in the past will work in cyberspace."

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), is urging lawmakers to resolve their differences on the bill by Thanksgiving.


From: Dave Farber <farber@central.cis.upenn.edu
Subject: IP: Washington Post: Conf Committee Debates Cyberporn Penalties (fwd)


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