Campaign to Stop the New York State Internet Censorship Bill


CAMPAIGN TO STOP THE NEW YORK STATE INTERNET CENSORSHIP BILL!
(A3967/S210)
Email:
vtw@vtw.org
URL: http://www.vtw.org/
January 24, 1996

Coalition members of this campaign include:

Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)
New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)
Voters Telecommunications Watch (VTW)

Redistribute this message freely but do not remove this banner.
This alert was authored by the Voters Telecommunications Watch.


Contents:


What's Happening

The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed a bill that would make online service providers (including commercial services such as America Online and Prodigy and direct Internet Service Providers such as Panix, MindVox, and Echo) liable for the content on their networks.

The bill would prohibit the knowing "dissemination" of material that depicts "actual or simulated nudity,[or] sexual conduct", that is "harmful to minors" and is communicated to a minor through a "computer communications system".

If Gov. Pataki signs this bill into law it could impose significant burdens upon Internet Access businesses to screen the Internet for their users, drive Internet content businesses from New York state, and chill free speech. Here is a short list of the problems with this bill:

CONTAINS VAGUE AND OVERBROAD LANGUAGE IMPLYING LIABILITY FOR ONLINE SERVICE PROVIDERS
The bill penalizes those who "knowingly" disseminates material that depicts "actual or simulated nudity". The term "knowingly" is not clearly defined. Everyone knows there is a small amount of material that may not be suitable for consumption by minors. Moreover, the term "disseminates" could be understood to apply to *both* individual subscribers *and* service providers who operate online networks

SERVICE PROVIDERS MAY BE FORCED TO SCREEN ONLINE CONTENT
In order to avoid liability under this legislation, an online service provider may be compelled to pre-screen all material on their networks to which minors have access. From a practical standpoint, such pre-screening is simply impossible due to the literally millions of pages of information which flow over online services every day.

Holding service providers liable for the content on their networks also creates tremendous free speech and privacy problems. If service providers are forced to pre-screen the material on their networks in order to avoid liability, no message will be private. Privacy and the free flow of information online will be severely impaired.

DOES NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT EXISTING PARENTAL CONTROLS
The law does not take into account the fact that parents and teachers have extensive tools to control children's access to the Internet already, and that these will be far more effective than state laws that cannot stop people outside the NY from making such information available.

PUTS VAGUE AND OVERBROAD RESPONSIBILITIES ON CONTENT PROVIDERS
If you are a content provider, you will be responsible under this bill to ensure that nothing you publish contains "actual or simulated nudity" or "sexual conduct" and is "harmful to minors". If you are unsure, you will be required to take measures to ensure that minors cannot access your information. However what measures those might be are not made clear. Even if asking for an age was the requirement, this is not an insignificant amount of work for those with sites with hundreds of pages.

This is especially dangerous for those who have WWW pages, mailing lists, or newsgroups which republish submissions from others.

On the net, everyone is a publisher, so you will be just as liable under this bill as the largest publishing company in the world.

While the intent of the drafters of this legislation is noble, the New York "Cyberporn" bill could force many New York based online service providers and content providers to violate the free speech and privacy rights of their users and in some cases to go out of business, or, worse yet, leave New York for other states which do not impose liability on them if this is signed into law.

There is one last chance to stop this proposal. Follow the instructions below and ask the sponsors of this bill to halt this proposal. Please also ask New York Governor Pataki to veto any bill without these changes. Children can be protected online and criminals can be punished without forcing online service providers to violate their users privacy and free speech rights.

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What You Can Do Now

1. If you're a business owner or partner, email
vtw@vtw.org right away to signon to the business letter. There is no time to waste!

2. Call or fax the sponsors of the bill and ask them to revise the bill so it does not infringe on the First Amendment. Explain to them it is poorly worded and does not clearly exempt online services or clearly define what it is trying to accomplish.

Here is a list of the people you should call or fax using the sample communique below.

Assembly member Telephone Fax
Speaker Sheldon Silver 212 385-6680 212 385-6799
Assemblywoman Destito 518 455-5454 518 455-5928

Senate member Telephone Fax
Majority Leader Joseph Bruno 518-455-3191 518-455-2448
Minority Leader Martin Connor 518-455-2701 518-432-8832
William Sears 518-455-3334 518-426-6964

3. Call or fax Governor Pataki and ask him not to sign the bill in its current form because of the negative impact it will have on businesses and free speech. It is very important that you make sure you mention that you are a business owner if you are.

You can reach the Governor at:

Telephone: (518) 474-8390 or (518) 474-1041
Fax: (518) 474-0888 or (518) 474-2344

Sample Communique

(ring)
GOV: Executive Chamber, yes?
You: Hi, I'd like to urge the governor to veto S210/A3967, as it will be very harmful to my Internet business. My business is:

Joe's Internet Provider
New York, NY 11201
212 555 1212

Thank you!

or try:

(ring)
GOV: Executive Chamber, yes?
You: Hi, I'd like the governor to veto the Internet censorship bill S210/A3967, as it will be harmful to Internet free speech. I'm a New York resident at:

212 Exon St.
NY NY, 11111

Thank you!

Please be *very* polite. This person will be taking a lot of calls.

4. Send a letter to vtw@vtw.org and let us know that you called.

$ Mail vtw@vtw.org
Subject: called gov pataki

I called Pataki's office and asked him to veto the bill. I'm a business owner and can be reached at 212 555 1212.

or

I called Pataki's office and asked him to veto the bill. I'm a New Yorker!

^D
Sent!

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Letter from NY Internet Businesses: Sign Your Business On!

[The following letter is designed to be sent to Gov. Pataki in regards to the NYS "Internet censorship" bill A3967/S210.]

We need to send this letter asap. Please respond in the affirmative if you wish to signon. To signon your ISP, web business, consulting business, or Internet cafe, send vtw@vtw.org an email with:

Your name
Your business name
Your title
Work phone number
Email address for you
Infobot email address if you have one
A one or two sentence description of your company
The number of employees you have (1 to however many)

-Shabbir]

Dear Governor,

The Internet censorship bill S210/A3967 would significantly hamper, if not drive away, businesses who provide Internet services and content in NY. For businesses to continue to survive in New York, you must veto it.

The bill attempts to regulate the Internet in such a way as to burden businesses with the responsibilities of parents by implying that Internet access and content providers screen such information.

In addition, this bill would chill free speech and force businesses to screen what their subscribers read, and does little to protect the interests of children who can obtain access to material outside New York and the US anyway.

Thousands of people use local New York businesses everyday as their onramp to the global Internet. They download millions of pages of information every day through these services. There is no feasible way for these businesses to screen what users want to look at, nor is it possible to ascertain the age of the person browsing the material.

Such a responsibility belongs with the consumers of such information. Many of our businesses have fewer than thirty employees. The staff required to screen all such information would easily have to be twice that size.

Finally, contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not an unregulated frontier. Current laws that criminalize the distribution of obscene material, child pornography, and the solicitation of minors for sex are illegal if they're done through computers, just as they are illegal if done on a street corner. Law enforcement has gone after those who commit these crimes already, and will continue to do so with the strength and force of existing statutes; no new laws are needed.

In closing, let us reiterate that this sort of legislation is likely to make other states besides New York with more rational approaches to the Internet more attractive to businesses.

Please veto the Internet censorship legislation before you. Our livelihoods, and the livelihoods of many New Yorkers, depends on it.

[The undersigned New York businesses]

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Text of A3967/S210

STATE OF NEW YORK

3967--B
1995-1996 Regular Sessions
IN ASSEMBLY
(PREFILED)
January 4, 1995

Introduced by M. of A. DESTITO, ROBACH, CONNELLY, GROMACK, CANESTRARI, PORDUM, SCHIMMINGER -- Multi-Sponsored by -- M. of A. BUTLER, CHRISTENSEN, ENGLEBRIGHT, GALEF, GANTT, GREENE, HARENBERG, HIKIND, KAUFMAN, KEANE, KLEIN, LAFAYETTE, ORTIZ, PERRY, PHEFFER, PRETLOW, SWEENEY, TOCCI, TOKASZ, TONKO -- read once and referred to the Committee on Codes -- committee discharged, bill amended, ordered reprinted as amended and recommitted to said committee -- again reported from said committee with amendments, ordered reprinted as amended and recommitted to said committee AN ACT to amend the penal law, in relation to disseminating indecent material to minors through any computer communication system THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, REPRESENTED IN SENATE AND ASSEMBLY, DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

01 Section 1. The section heading and subdivision 1 of section 235.15 of
02 the penal law, as amended by chapter 1031 of the laws of 1971, is
03 amended to read as follows:
04 Obscenity OR DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS IN THE SECOND
05 DEGREE; defense.
06 1. In any prosecution for obscenity, OR DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERI-
07 AL TO MINORS IN THE SECOND DEGREE IN VIOLATION OF SUBDIVISION THREE OF
08 SECTION 235.21, it is an affirmative defense that the persons to whom
09 allegedly obscene OR INDECENT material was disseminated, or the audi-
10 ence to an allegedly obscene performance, consisted of persons or insti-
11 tutions having scientific, educational, governmental or other similar
12 justification for possessing, DISSEMINATING or viewing the same.
13 ' 2. The opening paragraph of section 235.20 of the penal law, as
14 added by chapter 791 of the laws of 1967, is amended to read as follows:
15 The following definitions are applicable to sections 235.21 [and],
16 235.22 AND 235.23:
17 ' 3. The section heading and the closing paragraph of section 235.21
18 of the penal law, as amended by chapter 582 of the laws of 1969, are
19 amended to read as follows:
20 Disseminating indecent material to minors IN THE SECOND DEGREE.

PAGE-2
01 Disseminating indecent material to minors IN THE SECOND DEGREE is a
02 class E felony.
03 ' 4. Paragraph (c) of subdivision 2 of section 235.21 of the penal
04 law, as amended by chapter 582 of the laws of 1969, is amended and a new
05 subdivision 3 is added to read as follows:
06 (c) Admits a minor for a monetary consideration to premises whereon
07 there is exhibited or to be exhibited such motion picture show or other
08 presentation[.]; OR
09 3. KNOWING THE CHARACTER AND CONTENT OF THE COMMUNICATION WHICH, IN
10 WHOLE OR IN PART, DEPICTS ACTUAL OR SIMULATED NUDITY, SEXUAL CONDUCT OR
11 SADO-MASOCHISTIC ABUSE, AND WHICH IS HARMFUL TO MINORS, HE INTENTIONALLY
12 INITIATES OR ENGAGES IN SUCH COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR THROUGH ANY
13 COMPUTER COMMUNICATION SYSTEM ALLOWING THE INPUT, OUTPUT, EXAMINATION OR
14 TRANSFER, OF COMPUTER DATA OR COMPUTER PROGRAMS FROM ONE COMPUTER TO
15 ANOTHER.
16 ' 5. Section 235.22 of the penal law is renumbered section 235.23 and
17 a new section 235.22 is added to read as follows:
18 ' 235.22 DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS IN THE FIRST DEGREE.
19 A PERSON IS GUILTY OF DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS IN THE
20 FIRST DEGREE WHEN:
21 1. KNOWING THE CHARACTER AND CONTENT OF THE COMMUNICATION WHICH, IN
22 WHOLE OR IN PART, DEPICTS ACTUAL OR SIMULATED SEXUAL CONDUCT OR SADO-MA-
23 SOCHISTIC ABUSE WHICH IS HARMFUL TO MINORS, HE INTENTIONALLY INITIATES
24 OR ENGAGES IN SUCH COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR THROUGH ANY COMPUTER
25 COMMUNICATION SYSTEM ALLOWING THE INPUT, OUTPUT, EXAMINATION OR TRANS-
26 FER, OF COMPUTER DATA OR COMPUTER PROGRAMS FROM ONE COMPUTER TO ANOTHER;
27 AND
28 2. BY MEANS OF SUCH COMMUNICATION HE IMPORTUNES, INVITES OR INDUCES A
29 MINOR TO ENGAGE IN SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, DEVIATE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, OR
30 SEXUAL CONTACT WITH HIM, OR TO ENGAGE IN A SEXUAL PERFORMANCE, OBSCENE
31 SEXUAL PERFORMANCE, SEXUAL CONDUCT, OR PERFORMANCE FOR HIS BENEFIT.
32 DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS IN THE FIRST DEGREE IS A
33 CLASS D FELONY.
34 ' 6. The penal law is amended by adding a new section 235.24 to read
35 as follows:
36 ' 235.24 DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS; DEFENSE.
37 IN ANY PROSECUTION FOR DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS IN
38 THE SECOND DEGREE PURSUANT TO SUBDIVISION THREE OF SECTION 235.21 OF
39 THIS ARTICLE OR DISSEMINATING INDECENT MATERIAL TO MINORS IN THE FIRST
40 DEGREE PURSUANT TO SECTION 235.22 OF THIS ARTICLE, IT SHALL BE AN AFFIR-
41 MATIVE DEFENSE THAT:
42 1. THE DEFENDANT MADE A REASONABLE EFFORT TO ASCERTAIN THE TRUE AGE OF
43 THE MINOR; AND
44 2. THE DEFENDANT WAS UNABLE TO DO SO AS A RESULT OF ACTIONS TAKEN BY
45 THE MINOR; AND
46 3. THE DEFENDANT MADE NO ATTEMPT TO CONCEAL HIS TRUE AGE OR IDENTITY.
47 ' 7. This act shall take effect on the first day of November next
48 succeeding the date on which it shall have become a law.

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Press Contact Information

The Voters Telecommunications Watch (VTW) is the premier grass-roots civil liberties watchdog group on the Internet. You can reach VTW via email at
vtw@vtw.org (please put "PRESS DEADLINE" in the subject) or via telephone at 718-596-2851. Our WWW site is at http://www.vtw.org/

The NYCLU is the NY State affiliate of the ACLU. Our defense of the First Amendment and the New York State Constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression is in the forefront of our efforts. You can Beth Haroules at NYCLU at 212-382-0557. NYCLU is on the WWW at http://www.aclu.org/

The Center For Democracy and Technology is a non-profit public interest organization based in Washington DC. The Center's mission is to develop and advocate public policies that advance constitutional civil liberties and democratic values in new computer and communications technologies. You can reach Jonah Seiger or Danny Weitzner at CDT at 202-637-9800. CDT is on the WWW at http://www.cdt.org/

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