Communication and the Law- The Communications Decency Act

The law has had implications in communication since the advent of the First Amendment right to free speech. Title V of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 also known as the Communications Decency act was brought into being in an effort to regulate and prohibit activities. It was originally intended as a legislative response to the overwhelming number of obscene sites on the Internet. In fact its main goal was to protect children from pornography on the web. Yet in its enactment the law expanded provisions that caused it to also be applicable to obscene and harassing phone calls as well as to adult content on cable television.

This legislation specifically prohibits obscene or harassing utilization of a wide array of telecommunicative devices including the telephone, cable television programming and the Internet for the purpose transmitting, viewing, or accessing pornography. In relation to cable television, it gave permission for the cable broadcast stations to block access to people that weren’t subscribers, and allowed cable stations to have the right to not carry programs they deemed obscene. It also offered protection to internet service providers from any legal consequences as a result of what other people posted on the web- i.e. third party content.

An individual can be held criminally liable for knowingly transmitting patently offensive, indecent or obscene materials over the Internet. This was a highly controversial act that many felt was the governments attempt to censor internet content- however others felt that it was extremely important to make sure that children could have an safe and enjoyable internet experience and that if in the event a child did encounter obscene material that the ISP itself wasn’t held liable. This was viewed as a very important piece of legislation by ISP’s because it provided them with much needed protection from being sued for content they had no control over.

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