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CDA /C-D-A/ The "Communications Decency Act" of 1996, passed on Black Thursday as section 502 of a major telecommunications reform bill. The CDA made it a federal crime in the USA to send a communication which is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person." It also threatens with imprisonment anyone who "knowingly" makes accessible to minors any message that "describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs".

While the CDA was sold as a measure to protect minors from the putative evils of pornography, the repressive political aims of the bill were laid bare by the Hyde amendment, which intended to outlaw discussion of abortion on the Internet.

To say that this direct attack on First Amendment free-speech rights was not well received on the Internet would be putting it mildly. A firestorm of protest followed, including a February 29th mass demonstration by thousands of netters who turned their home pages black for 48 hours. Several civil-rights groups and computing/telecommunications companies sought an immediate injunction to block enforcement of the CDA pending a constitutional challenge. This injunction was granted on the likelihood that plaintiffs would prevail on the merits of the case. At time of writing (Spring 1996), the fate of the CDA, and its effect on the Internet, is still unknown. See also Exon.

To join the fight against the CDA (if it's still law) and other forms of Internet censorship, visit the Center for Democracy and Technology Home Page at http://www.cdt.org.

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