S.151: The Bill to End all Bills

Thursday, April 17, 2003, at 11:11AM

By Eric Richardson

On April 10 a bill was cleared for the White House that I think is one of the more dangerous bills ever to be passed. S.151, or the "Child Abduction Prevention Act" (or AMBER Alert Act), seems inocuous enough, until you look at all the provisions that have been attached to it. I first read about the bill via this Plastic article, and yesterday actually took the time to read up on it. Click the title to read more...

To get the text of the bill, go to http://thomas.loc.gov and search for bill number S.151. As I understand it, S.151.EAH is what is actually going to the President.

This bill contains numerous provisions that are far, far outside the scope of its original intent, and which will most likely be ruled unconstitutional. This ACLU letter linked from the Plastic article contains a good summary of their objections, but let's go through a couple of them here as well.

Section 108: Misleading Domain Names

This provision would make it illegal for a porn site to have a deceptive name. That sounds fine at first; there have been numerous cases of porn sites grabbing up expiring names with the intent to grab unsuspecting visitors to the old site. However, just because I agree that the action is wrong doesn't make it illegal. First of all, I have a very strong problem with the US Government legislating domain names. The Internet is global, the US is no longer its ruler. Secondly, this provision says that a non-misleading name has "sex" or "porn" in it. As the ACLU points out, this is in effect compelled speech, and the Court doesn't tend to like that. Since this is content-based regulation of speech, the government has to prove a compelling interest in regulation, and I really don't know how they're going to do that.

Section 504: Phohibition of Obscenity Depicting Young Children

The Court last year ruled the CPPA unconstitutional in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition. The same exact arguments will apply here. This time Congress has attempted to change things up by prohiting only "a visual depiction that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a pre-pubescent child engaging in sexually explicit conduct." The Court can't cite American Beauty as a threatened work any more, but other than that, this change accomplishes very little. As the ACLU points out, the Court has already said that you can't silence allowable speech just because it makes it easier to prosecute illegal speech. Also, the Court has made it clear that its interest in putting child porn outside of free speech is to prevent direct harm to the minors involved. In cases not involving real children (the "visually indistinguishable from" part of the wording) there are no children harmed. While you could argue that virtual child porn leads to higher pedophilia, the Court has rejected that argument.

In their Findings section, Congress makes it sound like a multitude of cases are slipping through the cracks since people are claiming their "child porn" is virtual. However the ACLU disputes that claim, saying that less than 1% of child porn cases ended in acquital.

A lot of stories have the RAVE Act attached to this bill, but I can't find it in any of the versions I've seen. I may just not be using the system right, though.

There are other provisions in the bill that are just as bad, but those are the two that are most interesting to me (one since it's Internet related, and the other since we've talked about it in a class I'm in).