The Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996. The goal was to protect children from harmful content on the Internet, which sounds great in theory but turns out to be terribly difficult to implement in practice. Many groups believed that the CDA was overly vague and could restrict all sorts of legitimate speech between adults, and the ACLU took the lead in the legal challenge to the law. The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court, where it became the first Internet-related case addressed by the Court. Reno v. ACLU was decided on June 26, 1997, and it struck down major sections of the CDA. The Court found that the law was imprecise; regulating speech generally requires highly-specific controls, and the text of the law did not meet that standard. The CDA did not define “indecent” and “patently offensive,” nor did it include the caveat that “patently offensive” material with some socially redeeming value would be allowed. The justices found that filtering on the user end (that is, by parents) was a less-troubling method of filtering out unwanted Internet content.
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