Eye on Big Brother
by Liz Highleyman

From Issue 2.4 - February 1996

U.S. Out of My URL: Net Censorship

Since our article about online censorship last issue, things are looking more grim. As you may recall, the Senate had passed a draconian censorship law known as the Communications Decency Act (CDA), while the House had passed the Cox-Wyden amendment preventing FCC regulation of the Internet. Because the two proposals were so different, conference committees had to decide on compromise language. On December 6, a House conference committee adopted the Manager's amendment, which imposes censorship as strict as that of the CDA. The amendment contains indecency (rather than obscenity) wording, which would make electronic communications the most heavily censored medium in the US -- more so than printed or spoken language.

Efforts have been made to change the proposed legislation. An Internet Day of Protest on December 12 resulted in 20,000 calls and e-mail messages to Congress. A rally South of Market in San Francisco on December 14 drew 500 protesters, some wearing T-shirts reading "USA out of my URL."

As of late January, the House and Senate conference committee had not decided on a final wording for the CDA. Once this wording is in place, the Telecommunications Reform Act, of which the CDA is a part, must be voted on by the full House and Senate. This is expected to take place some time after the congressional recess, most likely after budget deliberations are completed, although a vote is not yet scheduled. There is still time to contact your representatives and ask them to oppose online censorship; parental choice is a better way to protect children while leaving consenting adults free to access the content the choose.

For more information, visit the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Compuserve Axes Newsgroups

Compuserve, Inc., a worldwide computer online service, on December 27 denied access to over 200 mostly sex-related Usenet newsgroups. Compuserve originally claimed that it took the action after a German prosecutor demanded that the newsgroups not be made available in Germany. Because Compuserve had no way to deny access to users in only one country, the service opted to censor content for all of its four million users rather than lose 200,000 German customers. In the face of a huge outcry and much media publicity, Compuserve has since acknowledged that the German government made no threats whatsoever to force Compuserve's action. The service has also said that it is developing ways to allow newsgroups to be blocked on a country-by-country basis, but Compuserve CEO Bob Massey also made it clear that some newsgroups would remain off-limits. Ironically, users with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Internet can find ways to access the newsgroups despite the ban.

The censored newsgroups include not only the expected sex- and SM-related forums (alt.sex.bondage, alt.sex.spanking, alt.sex.femdom, etc.), but also many newsgroups dealing with homosexuality (including the non-sexually-explicit moderated newsgroup soc.support.youth.gay-lesbian-bi, and clari.news.gays, which contains news stories from the mainstream print media). Equally absurd, a group that discusses Star Trek (alt.sexy.bald.captains) was also among those banned.

Braverman Too Ill to Face Arraignment

The arraignment of "Bad Brad" Braverman on charges of obscenity were deferred due to Braverman's illness, which is said to be very serious. His lawyer has speculated that the case may never go to trial.

Charges against Braverman follow a September 1995 raid on the artist's studio. Computer equipment, utility bills and model releases were confiscated. Police presented a warrant that stated that authorities believed Braverman intended to use the seized material "as a means of committing a public offense."

Braverman is known for his films RawShock, Fetish and Pissed, the latter of which is an exposition of men engaging in water sports. His photographic work appeared in the recent "The Cost of Desire" exhibit at the Mark I Chester Gallery.

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Last updated: 10 February 1996