Think Internet Censorship Can’t Happen Here?

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A few years ago I helped sue the state of Ohio.

I’m proud to say we just won an important victory—something that protects every American.

Like many states in the early 2000s, Ohio passed a law criminalizing the sending of material “harmful to minors” on the internet. There were only 3 small problems with the law—“harmful to minors” wasn’t really defined, on the net you can’t know who’s a minor, and I have the First Amendment right to say what I want if it isn’t obscene or libelous.

Other than that, the law was fine.

As the publisher of Sexual Intelligence, I could have been jailed and fined for discussing contraception, sexual assault, testicle self-exams, or nudity. So with the help of the ACLU, I and others sued Ohio to overturn the law.

After the law was overturned, the state variously appealed and rewrote it several times. The most recent form still imposes fines and prison terms for providing non-obscene, sexually explicit material to minors via websites, public chatrooms, and listservs.

Yesterday a federal Court of Appeals ruled that the statute must be construed narrowly. People can only be prosecuted for sending sexually explicit, non-obscene material to a known minor through “personally directed” electronic communication such as person-to-person email. While I don’t agree with this approach either, at least it’s the same standard restricting what material can be given to a minor in person.

This was one of those laws that attempted to restrict the entire internet to what is appropriate for minors (with “appropriate” being defined by angry people, frightened of sex). It’s astonishing that some people would actually point to the bad stuff on the web and suggest that that’s a good enough reason to sanitize the whole internet.

Isn’t that what the Chinese and Iranians are doing successfully—and which we’re bitterly complaining about?

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