Should the U.S. Government Regulate the Internet?

The Communications Decency Act was enacted into law February 1, 1996. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill 414 to 6 and the Senate 91 to 5. The CDA made it so that anyone who "transmits, posts, or distributes ‘indecent’ material to the World Wide Web, ftp sites, Usenet newsgroups or Bulletin Board services, nay be punished with a $250,000 fine and up to two years in prison. Private e-mail or online chat-room communications with anyone under 18 are covered by identical provisions" (10)

The definition of indecent was most famously defined in the Supreme Court case FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation, 1978, in which George Carlin and his "Seven Dirty Words" monologue are discussed. The court defined indecent as being "sexually explicit material which may be offensive to some or may be considered by some to be inappropriate for children, but which is protected by the First Amendment." (1)

Indecent should not be confused with obscene which was defined by the Supreme Court in Miller vs. California, 1973. The court provided a three-part-test for determining if material was obscene: 1) Using community standards, would the average person find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the purient interest? 2) Does the work depict or describe in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law? 3) does the work lack serious literacy, artistic, political or scientific value? Obscene material is not given First Amendment protection. (1)

It should be pointed out that the Communications Decency Act uses the word indecent as the standard to apply to Internet communications. It is because of this term that the Supreme Court found the CDA to be too restrictive of the First Amendment. This paper will examine the path to this landmark decision, and present arguments for both sides of the issue. Should the Internet and its content be regulated by the American government?