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Reflections on Independence Day

It sure has been an interesting few weeks in Internet land.

First on June 20th a judge in Georgia ruled that anonymous speech on the Internet is protected by the US Constitution. Then on the same day a New York judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for a state to regulate content on the Internet if that content crosses state lines. Of course the big decision came on June 26th when the US Supreme Court unanimously upheld the opinion of the three judge Pennsylvania court that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) was unconstitutional. Finally, on July 1st the Clinton administration published a revised version of its A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. (More about this next week.) All of these developments are very good news for the Internet and its users. There are still a few dark clouds around but these last few weeks make this a far better Independence Day then it might have been otherwise.

The Georgia case ( is not quite as clear a beacon as it might be since it was finally decided on the vagueness of the text of the law instead of principal. The law was attempting to ensure that people were not misrepresenting themselves in Internet communications in order to commit fraud. Claiming to be from IBM when they actually had no association with IBM for example. But in the opinion judge Marvin H. Shoob points out that because of the vague text the law could be read as disallowing the use of alias or nick names by individuals who had no fraudulent intent. The judge felt that this would violate the Constitution as did the ban on anonymous political speech that the Supreme Court overturned in 1995. (The Right To Speak Incognito)

The New York case ( is potentially very important in light of repeated attempts by state legislatures to undertake regulation of the Internet in one way or another. The US Constitution prohibits the states from making regulations that inhibit interstate commerce and judge Loretta A. Preska ruled that New York's attempt to regulate Internet content did just that and was thus unconstitutional. The judge notes that the jurisdictions of states are based on geography which is a virtually meaningless construct on the Internet. One could note that this also applies at the national level.

Since I was among those who testified for the American Library Association in opposition to the CDA, the Supreme Court decision in the case ( is particularly rewarding. The court unanimously found that this law unconstitutionally restricted the free speech of adults and was far to vague and open ended in its restrictions. (Two of the justices agreed that the CDA was unconstitutional but disagreed with another part of the ruling.) Even the President has reluctantly accepted the decision and is calling for investigation of V-chip like solutions to permit parents to control what their kids see via the Net.

It has been a beautiful Independence Day and weekend here in Boston. (The rain even cooperated and only fell at night.) With the good weather and the good news on the judicial front it has been one of the best Independence Days that I can remember, and for now I will ignore the ominous clouds in the distance. Clouds such as Germany setting up ciber cops to watch the Net and who just might pull you aside during a stopover in Frankfurt if they don't like what they read or see.

disclaimer: Harvard had Independence Day off (a respite in the relentless pursuit of excellence) so I had to rely on my own opinions.