April 28, 1995
Thank you for contacting me about the issue of terrorism and the Internet. The issue is a very important one, and I welcome the fact that in response to my comments at yesterday's hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, so many people from different parts of the country have used e-mail to contact me on both sides of the issue.
As you know, I am a strong supporter of the Internet and the vast potential of the technological revolution to improve communication in our society and provide extraordinary access to information for large numbers of our citizens.
Our country is rapidly entering this new information age. Through computer networks, Americans enjoy increased access to a wide range of information, including government documents, educational resources and the views of their fellow citizens. The free flow of information on these networks is essential. But I am concerned, as I believe many citizens are, by the apparently easy access via the Internet to information whose only purpose seems to be to incite violence and terrorism.
We have only just begun to consider these complex issues in Congress, and clearly we must do so with the full regard for freedom of speech and other basic liberties protected by the Constitution.
As I have stated many times in the Congressional debate on pornography on the Internet, we must exercise the utmost caution if we are to legislate in this area. The constitutional right of free speech clearly applies to electronic communications, just as it applies to written or spoken communications.
For example, while the government can constitutionally limit material that falls within the narrow definition of obscenity, proposals that would impose excessive restrictions, such as the pending Exon Amendment, are too sweeping to pass constitutional muster.
Similar constitutional standards apply to terrorist materials on the Internet. While most speech is protected, no matter how unpopular, no one has a constitutional right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater, to threaten others with violence, to incite a riot, or to incite an act of terrorism. Similar constitutional principles allow Congress to prohibit the publication of military secrets.
In a recent example, Congress enacted in 1994 a law to protect women's health clinics from bombings and other violence. This bipartisan statute, which includes restrictions on protesters near the clinics, was crafted after a thorough examination of constitutional rights, and has been repeatedly upheld by federal courts.
Clearly, when Congress does act, it has a responsibility to do so in full accord with the Constitution and its fundamental protections for freedom of speech.
Thank you again for contacting me on this important subject. I will certainly keep your views in mind as Congress considers this critical issue in the coming weeks.
Edward M. Kennedy
United States Senator