What is the Communications Decency Act?

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) is a provision of the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996. This act criminalizes "indecent" speech on the Internet. It is considered the principal threat of Internet censorship today (7).

Basically, the CDA makes it illegal for anyone to use a telecommunications device to communicate anything indecent. It also makes it illegal to communicate anything indecent in a medium where the recipient may be under 18 years-old. This act includes any material on the Internet, along with private e-mail. The penalties for breaking this law could be a fine up to $250,000 or up to two years in prison or both.

The Communications Decency Act, Section 223 (d) deals specifically with the Internet and reads as follows:

(d) Whoever--
(1) in interstate or foreign communications knowingly--
(A) uses an interactive computer service to display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communications that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs, regardless of whether the user of such service placed the call or initiated the communication; or
(2) knowingly permits any telecommunications facility under such person's control to be used for an activity prohibited by paragraph (1) with the intent that it be used for such activity, shall be fined under Title 18 United States Code, or imprisoned not more than two years, or both (3).