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[FYI] U.S.: Part of CDA well and alive?


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April 21, 2000  


Suit Against Anonymous Pest Revives Online Speech Law  

little-known federal law restricting indecent speech online that many 
lawyers thought was essentially dead has come back to life in Federal 
District Court in Manhattan, to the chagrin of some civil 

The law, an attempt to refurbish for the Internet age some older 
statutes banning harassing phone calls, outlaws the use of a 
telecommunications device, like a computer modem, to transmit 
comments that are "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent" 
when the intent is "to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another 

It is a small surviving part -- section 223(a)(1)(A) -- of the 
Communications Decency Act of 1996. Two other better-known CDA 
provisions, which would have banned the online transmission of 
indecent speech to minors, were struck down by the United States 
Supreme Court as violations of the First Amendment in a landmark 
decision in 1997.  

Earlier this month, in what may be the first lawsuit of its kind, 
lawyers for an Internet company invoked the remaining part of the act 
in a suit against a persistent pest.  

In papers filed on April 11, New York-based About.com said that an 
unknown person had been invading many of the company's chat rooms 
since November 1999, including the alcoholism, dating and rodeo rooms 
-- and, while impersonating the identities of regular chatters, had 
flooded the rooms with "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy and 
indecent messages through interstate communications with the intent 
to annoy, abuse, threaten and harass other people."  

Because the company does not know the visitor's name, it sued the 
unknown computer user who left behind a specific set of IP addresses, 
the electronic footprints left on a Web server by any visitor to a 
site. These can often be traced back to an Internet service provider. 

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