Eye on Big Brother
by Liz Highleyman

From Issue 3.4 - May 1997

Newsrack Law Upheld

On March 17, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Crawford vs. Lungren, letting stand a lower court ruling that bans the sale of sexually explicit publications from street vending boxes.

An injunction had been in effect against the enforcement of the law since the suit was filed in 1995. The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously upheld a lower court's ruling in the case, citing "a compelling need to protect children."

The publications in question are not legally obscene, and do not display sexually explicit material on their covers where it can be seen through vending boxes. Publishers of adult materials now must hire guards for their street boxes, confine sales to stores, or publish a "G-rated" version for newsracks (the course taken by Spectator newspaper).

Supreme Court Hears CDA Case

The Supreme Court on March 19 heard oral arguments in ACLU vs Reno, the appeal of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The CDA, passed by Congress in February 1996, would make it illegal to transmit by computer any "indecent" or "patently offensive" material.

The law was challenged by two groups of plaintiffs which include librarians, publishers, computer companies, numerous organizations, and thousands of individual Internet users.

In June 1996, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia unanimously ruled that the CDA was unconstitutional, stating that the law may not interfere with the right of adults to access material, even if that material might not be appropriate for children. The Department of Justice appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court in July, arguing that the CDA was necessary to protect children from online pornography. The Supreme Court typically does not hear new evidence in a case, but rather rules on decisions handed down by lower courts.

The March 19 testimony lasted 70 minutes, 10 minutes longer than a typical Supreme Court hearing. Both the government and ACLU attorneys were questioned extensively by the justices. A decision in the case is expected in late June or early July.

SF Sex Club Update

On February 21, the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) AIDS Office sent letters to several area sex clubs informing them that a new set of "minimum standards" is now in effect.

AIDS Office director Dr. Mitch Katz stated that "the city will take legal action to close sex clubs and parties that violate city codes and/or operate in a manner than contributes to the spread of HIV and STD." Joint inspections by the health, fire, and building departments will begin soon.

The DPH's "Minimum Standards for Operation of Sex Clubs and Parties" prohibit unprotected anal and vaginal intercourse and fisting (although no evidence exists to show that fisting is an HIV transmission risk behavior). The standards also specify that clubs must provide safer sex supplies and educational materials, that all areas of a club must be monitored, and that no locked or unmonitorable booths or rooms are permitted.

The venues that received the DPH letter in the "first round" are Blow Buddies, the Campus Theater, Castro Party/Black House, Circle J Cinema, EROS, the "14th Street House," Mack, Power Exchange Main Station and Substation, the Sling, and the Tearoom Theater. Several of these venues host S/M parties or events. All but the Power Exchange Substation cater to a gay male clientele. The lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender advisory committee of the city's Human Rights Commission held a hearing in March concerning selective enforcement against gay establishments, and the Harvey Milk Democratic Club unanimously disavowed the DPH regulations on March 25.

It is expected that several venues which host sex and S/M parties attended by a mixed gender/orientation crowd will be targeted in the next phase of inspections.

AOL Bans Bondage

Last year, America Online (AOL) -- one of the country's most widely used Internet services -- angered women with breast cancer when they banned the word "breast" from members' user profiles. Profiles are created by users to tell others about themselves. Now AOL has done it again, banning the word "bondage" from such profiles. Any user that attempts to submit a new profile -- or update and re-save an old one -- containing the word will have their profile automatically rejected or "bounced."

The service is known for its attempts to cleanse profiles of content that it considers objectionable in the name of "family values." According to long-time AOL user Robert Fifield of Masters and Slaves Together, the service's "TOS" policy also rejects the word "sadomasochism" and the phrase "master and slave." He notes that while a profile containing the phrase "all faggots must die" would not be automatically rejected -- because none of the individual words are banned -- a profile that includes the phrase "I believe in safe, sane, and consensual bondage" would bounce.

Several AOL users have organized a protest campaign targeting AOL president Steve Case, and have also talked about boycotting the service if demands for a policy change are not met. For more information regarding this issue, visit the web page at http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Palms/7929.

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Last updated: 31 May 1997