Warning: This article contains material that is potentially criminal in nature and could be considered "indecent" under certain provisions of the proposed Senate Telecommunications reform bill. You have been warned.
Jacking in from the "You Can't Fool All the People All The Time" Port:
Washington -- The brain-dead, ill-named Communications Decency Act (S.314) was, as expected, folded into the Senate's telecommunications reform package today, which was approved on a 17-2 vote by the Commerce Committee.
This bill, sponsored by Senator James Exon (D-Neb.), who is punching out of the Senate after his term ends this year, would essentially make criminals of anyone sending messages ambiguously defined as "indecent" across the Internet.
The bill makes no distinction between consensual or nonconsensual: If you're given to sending the occasional lusty message to that someone special, under this bill, you're fucked. In fact, under the language of the bill, that last sentence could land me a cozy jail cell and tap my checkbook for a cool $100,000 in fines.
The bill has whipped up a firestorm of controversy, resulting in what amounts to a virtual uprising among Internet users. The day before the Senate committee vote, an Internet driven petition that garnered more than 100,000 "signatures" was presented to Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.). The petition apparntly fell on deaf ears.
The bill, added as an amendment to the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 was passed on a voice vote; there were no dissenters.
The bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), gave lip service to the concerns raised by civil liberties groups, saying that because our "kids have access to all this junk" on the Internet, the amendment was needed. Gorton said Exon had sufficiently addressed the "outcries" of the Internet community by changing language in the bill that would have held Internet service providers, commercial information systems such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy and telecommunications carriers libel by the mere fact that they were party to the "indecent speech" because it was swept through their electronic veins.
Apparently, only the individual sending the message is now held criminally responsible. Well, fuck that. (Damn, that's two counts of indecency... quick, delete this from your system or you, too, may be held accountable...)
Just how much Exon has changed the bill isn't known; his staff didn't circulate the amendment's new language. Regardless, the bill is bad blood. "We absolutely still oppose this bill," said Jerry Berman, ex- EFF director who's now heading his own policy group, the Center for Democracy and Technology. Even if the bill has been "narrowed" to sting only individuals, "it's still unconstitutional," Berman said.
Berman's group has floated a proposal that relies on technological advancements that would enable parents to keep their innocents from being virtually violated by the Internet's sometimes rough and tumble language.
The bill is flawed from the outset. While a 12-year-old can sneak a peek at Playboy at this local 7-11 or drool while reading the graphic descriptions of blow jobs in a Danielle Steele novel at Crown Books, the same type of material will land you in jail under this bill.
And now, instead of being able to fight the bill as a stand alone item, it's now wrapped into the broader telecommunications reform package, a piece of legislation that everyone in the industry with a heart beat has a hard on for. To defeat this beast now will require procedural surgery when the reform bill hits the Senate floor for debate.
The moronic stance of this bill can be illustrated by taking a short stroll to a men's restroom, the one just down the hall from where this august body of lawmakers was holding forth on how to shape the future of telecommunications. Once inside the men's room, a left turn into any of the several stalls reveals entire walls of graffiti that looked like they were plucked from Alt.Sex.Suck-My-Dick.
Here you'll find phone numbers with invitations to get personal with someone's "Big 10 inch." There are anatomically correct -- if slightly exaggerated -- sketches of homoerotic acts. And in another stall, someone has even clipped what appears to be photos from a sexually explicit gay men's magazines and pasted them to the walls and toilet paper dispensers.
Exiting the restroom, a youngster, no more than 10, visiting his "lawmakers in action" pushed passed me to the stalls, a pained, urgent look on his face...
Leaving the restroom I turned to check for a warning sign, something, anything that would have warned my urgent young stranger about the experience he was about to partake of in the pursuit of a moment of freedom. There was no warning. No sign. I made a note and dropped it off at Exon's office. I was going to Email him, but he doesn't have it... and I doubt he'd accept it from an "indecent message trafficker" such as myself anyway.