Some Background on the CDA


On February 8, 1996 President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 into law. Title V of this act includes the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Section 223 (d) of the CDA states:

"Whoever...uses any 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 communication 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...shall be fined under Title 18 United States Code, or imprisoned not more than two years or both." (1)

Judge Ronald Buckwalter of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania cited Section 223 (d) in his memorandum. He ordered a temporary restraining order from enforcing the act "Insofar as they extend to 'indecent,' but not 'obscene'" (3). Buckwalter, although supporting Congress in its attempt to protect minors, agreed with opponents of the CDA that the word "indecent" was vaguely defined. He wrote in his memorandum:

"It is a most compelling constitutional reason to require of a law that it reasonably informs a person of what conduct is prohibited particularly when the violation of the law may result in fines, imprisonment, or both."

He further supported his decision by noting the Supreme Court never passed a law including the Federal Communication Commission's vague definition of "indecency" (2) Today the FCC basically defines "indecent" as anything suitable for adults only.