Cyberspace Censorship Worries Some

Article excerpt

Computer Online companies and Internet enthusiasts are nervously watching the progress of pending legislation that could impose censorship in cyberspace and possibly shut down businesses.

Sen. James Exon, a Nebraska Democrat, has introduced a bill that would extend laws regarding telephone usage to cover computers and other telecommunications devices.

The bill dictates that anyone using a computer to "annoy, abuse, threaten or harass" anyone else is liable for fines up to $100,000 and a jail sentence of up to two years.

Proposed as an amendment to the Communications Decency Act of 1934, the legislation would slap criminal penalties on anyone who "makes, transmits, or otherwise makes available" words or images deemed offensive over any telecommunications device.

The bill could be passed as soon as Thursday if it is tagged onto the broad-sweeping telecommunications reform package now under review in the Senate.

Civil liberties advocates, commercial on-line services and many Internet users say the bill is tantamount to government censorship, a flagrant violation of freedom of speech.

They argue that while pornography is as much a concern in cyberspace as it is in park space, existing laws and self-policing mechanisms built into commercial on-line services suffice in prosecuting purveyors of porn. …