Eye on Big Brother
by Liz Highleyman

From Issue 3.3 - February/March 1997

Sex Clubs Redux

At a meeting of the Coalition for Healthy Sex (CHS) on February 11, Tracey Packer and Mike Pendo of the SF's Department of Public Health AIDS Office stated that new standards regulating behavior in city sex clubs will soon go into effect. Packer stated that the department would be scheduling inspections of local clubs in conjunction with the departments of fire and building inspection. The regulations evolved from voluntary guidelines developed over the past two years by the CHS. The standards causing the most controversy involve private space with locking door and the monitoring of patrons' sexual activity. Community members have expressed "outrage" that the standards are being put into effect without public input. A new group called Community United for Sexual Privacy (CUSP) formed in January to advocate for the reopening of bathhouses with private spaces, claiming that no evidence exists to show that monitoring reduces the incidence of unsafe sexual activity. Leather community author and advocate Race Bannon is a founding member of the group. CUSP meets every other Wednesday at 7:30pm at the Power Exchange at 74 Otis Street. For information, visit the CUSP website. Supervisor Tom Ammiano will be sponsoring a forum on the issue on March 25 at the Women's Building on 18th Street.

In related news, Judge William Cahill in December lifted restrictions that had limited the Power Exchange Main Station to 49 occupants on one floor. Following re-inspection of the club, the occupancy level was set at 209. The restrictions had been set by Cahill on November 15 after the city attorney's office claimed that the club was a fire hazard. Since the initial inspection in the fall, Fire Captain Edward DeCossio and Chief Building Inspector Rafael Torres-Gil -- who some of those involved had charged with selective enforcement and homophobic remarks -- were taken off the case. The Power Exchange celebrated with a grand opening party on February 14 and a fetish ball co-sponsored with LINKS on February 15.

CDA Goes to the Supreme Court

On December 6, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a law passed last February that would restrict computer-based communications that are deemed "indecent" or "patently offensive." A three-judge panel in Philadelphia ruled in June that the CDA is unconstitutional and overbroad, and unlawfully restricts the types of materials available to consenting adults; that ruling blocked enforcement of the law pending appeal. The U.S. Department of Justice appealed the verdict in July, stating that the judges' ruling ''imperils the government's ability to protect children from sexually explicit material that is now widely disseminated on the Internet.'' The case is the first in which the nation's highest court will make a foray into the realm of cyberspace. The lead co-plaintiffs in the case are the ACLU and the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC)/American Library Association, both representing many parties including civil libertarians, online services, newspaper publishers, librarians, and individual Internet users. Both opponents and proponents are the CDA are eager for the Supreme Court to rule on the case. According to Jerry Berman of the Center for Democracy and Technology, "this case will determine the future of free expression in the information age, and is the most important first amendment case before the court in recent memory." Cathy Cleaver of the Family Research Council stated that the high court has the opportunity to "reverse the radical ruling which gave Bob Guccione the right to give his Penthouse magazine to our children on the Internet." In their first brief, government attorneys contend that "much of the Internet's potential as an educational and informational resource will be wasted if people are unwilling to avail themselves of its benefits because they do not want their children harmed by exposure to patently offensive sexually explicit material," arguing that the CDA actually "furthers the First Amendment interest of all Americans." The hearing of the case will begin on March 19; a decision in not expected until July. For more background and updates on the case, visit the Voter's Technology Watch website or the Center for Democracy and Technology website.

Military Porn Ban Rejected

On January 22, a federal judge in New York ruled that the Military Honor and Decency Act -- a law that would restrict the sale or rental of sexually explicit material on U.S. military bases and ships -- is unconstitutional. The measure was part of 1996 defense appropriations legislation. U.S. District Judge Shira Sheindlin stated that a democratic society "must tolerate a vast range of discourse, much of it in bad taste and offensive." The law was challenged by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione and other publishers. Those who favored the ban believe that sales of such material at military bases (which sell their wares at a discount to service members) amounts to a government subsidy for the porn industry.

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Last updated: 9 March 1997