WASHINGTON -- When President Clinton signed the Communications Decency Act into law last year, he and his top advisers knew that the legislation, regulating indecent material on the Internet, was on shaky constitutional ground.
White House officials immediately began planning a new approach on Internet smut to replace the flawed law, even as administration lawyers were writing their brief defending the act.
The result can be found in the broad new administration policy on Internet commerce and content that is to be announced by the president this week. Clinton's answer to cyberporn: new technology allowing parents to block offensive material that might otherwise reach their children, stricter parental supervision of children surfing the Internet and stronger self-regulation by the on-line industry. In a statement issued by the White House after the decency act was struck down by the Supreme Court on Thursday, the president said he would convene industry executives and groups representing parents, teachers and librarians to seek a solution to the problem of online pornographic material. The meeting is to be held Tuesday. "We can and must develop a solution for the Internet that is as powerful for the computer as the V-chip will be for the television, and that protects children in ways that are consistent with America's free-speech values," Clinton said. "With the right technology and rating systems," he said, "we can help insure that our children don't end up in the red-light districts of cyberspace." Members of Congress who supported the decency law criticized the justices and vowed to redouble efforts to write a bill that would survive court scrutiny to protect children from online pornography. "The Supreme Court, in its ruling against the Communications Decency Act, has entered dangerous, unexplored territory," said one of the voided law's sponsors, Sen. Daniel Coats, R-Ind. "A judicial elite is undermining democratic attempts to address pressing social problems. The Supreme Court is purposely disarming the Congress in the most important conflicts of our time." Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she would soon introduce a bill that would make it a felony to exploit chat rooms designed for children, require Web site operators to rate their pages for content and help provide filtering software for households with children and computers. But free-speech and Internet industry groups said no law could effectively monitor and regulate content on the rapidly expanding global information network without trampling on fundamental freedoms. …