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dg.o Web

Computer Crime and
Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS)†

Speech Issues in the High-tech Context

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  1. Internet Online Summit, December 1-3, 1997
  2. Hate Speech and the Internet
  3. 1997 Report on the Availability of Bombmaking Information
  4. Cyberstalking and Harassing Speech

A. Internet Online Summit, December 1-3, 1997

After the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in 1996, industry members, advocacy groups, and law enforcement (including CCIPS), many which had been on opposite sides in the CDA litigation, joined forces to sponsor the "Internet Online Summit: Focus on Children." The Summit's mission was to promote voluntary measures and technology tools to protect children from online predators and child pornographers. At the summit, the online service providers representing 95% of the home users market announced a "Zero Tolerance Policy" for child pornography. The Attorney General announced, among other initiatives, the formation of an industry-law enforcement "Safety Forum", and the sponsorship of a 24-hour "CyberTipLine", to be run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Vice President Gore also addressed the Summit, congratulating industry providers for their efforts to combat child predators and child pornographers, and announcing a public education campaign and Internet teach-in, aimed at making the Internet a safe place for children and families.
  • Attorney General Janet Reno's Speech to the Internet Online Summit, December 3, 1997
  • Vice President Al Gore's Speech to the Internet Online Summit, December 2, 1997
  • Text of the "Zero Tolerance Policy"

B. Hate Speech and the Internet

In November 1997, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights sponsored a seminar in Geneva, Switzerland on Hate Speech and the Internet. A CCIPS attorney delivered a speech outlining the First Amendment principles protecting racially biased speech against government censorship. The text of the speech is available via the link below:
  • Legal Aspects of Government-Sponsored Prohibitions Against Racist Propaganda on the Internet: The U.S. Perspective

C. 1997 Report on the Availability of Bombmaking Information
In section 709(a) of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ["the AEDPA"],Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, 1297 (1996), Congress provided that, inconsultation with such other officials and individuals as she
considers appropriate, the Attorney General shall conduct a study concerning† various issues related to availability to the public material in any medium (including print, electronic,† or film) that provides instructionon how to make bombs, destructive devices, of weapons of mass destruction; the extent to which information gained from such material has been used in incidents of domestic of† international terrorism; the likelihood that such information may be used in future incidents of terrorism; the application of Federal laws in effect on the date of enactment of this Act to such material; the need and utility, if any, for additional laws relating to such material; and an assessment of the extent to which the first amendment protects such material and its private and commercial distribution.

Section 709(b) of the AEDPA, in turn, requires the Attorney General to submit to the Congress a report containing the results of the study, and to make that report available to the public. That report was submitted to Congress in April 1997. It is available via the link below:
  • 1997 Report on the Availabilty of Bombmaking Information
  • Table of Contents
  • Download the Executable WordPerfect 6.1 file [262k]

D. Cyberstalking and Harassing Speech

The rapid growth of the Internet and other telecommunications technologies are promoting advances in virtually every aspect of society and every corner of the globe. Most of these advances represent positive changes in our society. Unfortunately, many of the attributes of this technology - low cost, ease of use, and anonymous nature, among others - make it an attractive medium for fraudulent scams, child sexual exploitation, and increasingly, a new concern known as "cyberstalking." Recognizing this emerging problem, Vice President Al Gore asked the Attorney General on February 26, 1999, to study the problem and to report back with recommendations on how to protect people from this threat. The report can be found by following the link below:

  • "Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry" A Report from the Attorney General to the Vice President (August 1999)
On April 21, 1999, Carl Edward Johnson, 49, of Bienfait, Saskatchewan, Canada, was convicted on four felony counts of sending threatening e-mail messages via the Internet to federal judges and others.† The charges were based on death threats posted to the Internet naming two federal judges based in Tacoma and Seattle and on an e-mail threat sent directly to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.† Although Johnson had used anonymous remailers and forged e-mail address information in an attempt to disguise his identity, Judge Bryan found that the Government's technical evidence proved Johnsonís authorship.† On June 11, 1999, Johnson was sentenced to thirty-seven months of imprisonment for his crimes.
  • Man Convicted of Threatening Federal Judges by Internet E-mail (April 21, 1999)
  • Man Sentenced to Thirty-Seven Months Imprisonment for Threatening Federal Judges by Internet E-mail (June 15, 1999)

Harassing Speech

On October 16, 1998, an individual pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to a felony for repeatedly causing e-mail to be transmitted over the Internet solely with the intent to harass another individual. Additional information regarding this case is available via the link below:

  • Individual pleaded guilty to causing numerous anonymous e-mail messages to be sent to a senior, supervisory level employee of the Department of Defense (October 16, 1998)
†Go to . . . CCIPS home page || Justice Department home page
Updated page March 28, 2000