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Slide 9 of 16

The right to free speech has already been challenged in the on-line world. The Communications Decency Act was passed as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and contained specific limits on the transmittal of information to minors. Within hours of being signed by President Clinton, the Act was challenged in court by the ACLU on constitutional grounds. A Philadelphia federal court did rule that the CDA is unconstitutional restriction on speech and we are now waiting for a final decision from the Supreme Court.

While most of us think of the CDA as being about "lewd and indecent" materials, there are some broader and even more important decisions involved. You may know that the First Amendment applies to public space, not private space. You don't have first amendment rights while on someone else's private property. So part of the question here is: Is cyberspace public space? Is it like a street corner, or is it like a store?

Another question is whether the Internet is a broadcast medium. Many legislators have called for Internet content to be regulated by the FCC just as it does for television and radio broadcast.

If it is decided that cyberspace isn't public space, this could have disastrous consequences for our future. Increasingly, our information resources are going to be transmitted digitally. Any restrictions on digital networks will mean that certain ideas cannot be communicated at all. Even though libraries uphold free speech and intellectual freedom, the institutions that provide the information to the libraries must be equally unrestricted if the First Amendment is to mean anything at all in the future.