ACLU sues to quell Internet censorship law


20 plaintiffs express concerns over impact





NEW MEXICO — A judge granted the American Civil Liberties Union an injunction June 23 stopping a bill that would censor free speech on the Internet from taking effect.

Senate Bill 127, which Gov. Gary Johnson signed in March, would prohibit the dissemination of material deemed harmful to minors involving simulated or depicted nudity or sexual conduct.

The bill would have also instituted fines of up to $1,000, jail time of up to one year or both, effective July 1.

In the motion, the ACLU joined by 20 other plaintiffs, claimed the bill violated the First Amendment and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Like the nation’s railways and highways, the Internet is by nature an instrument of interstate commerce that should not be burdened by inconsistent state laws,” said Ann Beeson, ACLU national staff attorney, in a press release.

Citing the 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case Reno v. ACLU, the ACLU argued that the bill’s broad language intended to protect minors unduly restricts adult free expression, which Reno which Reno prohibited.

Phil Davis, New Mexico ACLU co-legal director, said that his office fought the bill from its inception.

“We lobbied against it citing case law, and [Gov. Johnson] ignored it all,” Davis said. The ACLU originally filed a complaint in federal district court April 22 against the governor and the attorney general Tom Udall, who would oversee the execution of the law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, the ACLU successfully fought against Internet censorship laws in New York, Georgia and Virginia.

The ACLU reported that at least 13 states passed Internet censorship laws since 1995 and 10 states have pending legislation.

Joining the New Mexico lawsuit is OBGYN.net, a free online resource for professionals in obstetrics and gynecology.

In the online forums, women often use sexually explicit language to describe health problems.

Under the New Mexico law, the material could be considered harmful to minors.

“You can’t make law that restricts use of the Internet,” said Roberta Speyer, publisher of OBGYN.net. “You lose more than you gain. You have to find another method to catch pornographers that doesn1t catch the doctor or medical professional.”

Kay Bird, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the aim of the law was different.

“Our initial intent was to prohibit pedaphiles from luring children,” she said. She declined to comment any further.


Fall 1998, reports