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First Amendment and the Internet

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Overview Edit

In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that “[t]he Internet is an international network of interconnected computers . . . ‘a unique and wholly new medium of worldwide human communication.'"[1] As the Court stated, the Internet "constitut[es] a unique medium — known to its users as ‘cyberspace’ — located in no particular geographical location but available to anyone, anywhere in the world."[2] The Court recognized further that “cyberspace” contains “vast democratic fora” and that the “content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought” itself.[3]

Speech on the Internet is accorded First Amendment protection. As stated by the Supreme Court:

Through the use of chat rooms, any person with a phone line can become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox. Through the use of Web pages, mail exploders, and newsgroups, the same individual can become a pamphleteer. . . . [O]ur cases provide no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to this medium.”[4]

Unlike newspapers or radio or broadcast television or even on-demand television, the Internet gives Americans “a great degree of control over the information that they receive.”[5] Consequently, the Internet “offer[s] a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.”[6] Recognizing the Internet’s dynamic potential, Congress set forth the federal policies of “promot[ing] the continued development of the Internet”[7] and of “encourag[ing] the development of technologies [that] maximize user control over what information is received by individuals . . . who use the Internet”[8] as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.[9]

References Edit

  1. 521 U.S. 844, 850 (1997) (quoting American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, 929 F. Supp. 824, 844 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (three-judge panel).
  2. Id. at 851.
  3. Id. at 868, 870 (quoting ACLU v. Reno, 929 F. Supp. at 842).
  4. Id. at 870.
  5. 47 U.S.C. §230(a)(2).
  6. Id. §230(a)(4).
  7. Id. §230(b)(1).
  8. Id. §230(b)(3).
  9. See Vonage Holdings Corporation Petition for Declaratory Ruling Concerning an Order of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, WC Docket No. 03-211, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 19 FCC Rcd 22404, 22426, ¶35 (2004) (“While we acknowledge that the title of section 230 refers to ‘offensive material,’ the general policy statements regarding the Internet and interactive computer services contained in the section are not similarly confined to offensive material.”).

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