ACLU Urges Pennsylvania Legislature to Review Laws Regulating Internet Communications

May 12, 2003 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA — Furthering its commitment to keeping cyberspace free from censorship, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today urged state lawmakers to undertake a thorough review of existing Pennsylvania laws regulating Internet communications.

Larry Frankel, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania testified in Harrisburg at a hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee on a bill that would ban so-called “virtual child pornography.” Frankel explained why existing Pennsylvania laws barring certain communications by means of computers and through cyberspace are invalid under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

In his testimony, Frankel summarized the leading cases in this area. “The courts have recognized that the Internet is insensitive to state boundaries,” Frankel said. “State laws attempting to regulate what Americans say in cyberspace have been held to be unconstitutional because such laws amount to one state regulating the speech of citizens of other states.”

Frankel also noted that the courts have been wary of what would become a confusing array of inconsistent regulatory schemes were each state allowed to enact its own laws governing Internet communications. He said that uniform national treatment of cyberspace was essential to protecting the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

Frankel suggested that the General Assembly should carefully review existing statutes before enacting new laws in this area. “The ACLU believes that the existing laws in Pennsylvania that criminalize communications over the Internet are susceptible to legal challenge because they appear to be in violation of the Commerce Clause. We do not think that Pennsylvania’s current laws in this area are sufficiently narrowly drafted and we believe they suffer from the very defects discussed by the court cases I have described.”

Frankel’s testimony is online at /Cyber-Liberties/Cyber-Liberties.cfm?ID=12605&c=59

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