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The First Amendment and the Internet:

A.C.L.U. v. Miller, 977 F. Supp. 1228 N.D. Ga. 1997

Summary

Here, the "mini - CDA" of Georgia was struck down on this case on the ground that it appeared to impose content based speech restrictions that were not narrowly tailored in light of the state interest at stake. In addition, the court also held that, as drafted, the statue was overly board and void for vagueness.

Analysis

Besides New York, at least thirteen other states have enacted laws which regulate Internet content. Like New York’s, Georgia’s "baby CDA" was enjoined down by a federal court.

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The relevant provisions of the Georgia law made it a crime for:

any person . . . knowingly to transmit any data through a computer network . . . for the purpose of setting up, maintaining, operating, or exchanging data with an electronic mailbox, home page, or any other electronic information storage bank or point of access to electronic information if such data uses any individual name . . . to falsely identify the person . . .
and for:
any person . . . knowingly to transmit any data through a computer network . . . if such data uses any . . . trade name, registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol . . . which would falsely state or imply that such person . . . has permission or is legally authorized to use [it] for such purpose when such permission or authorization has not been obtained . . . .
In summary, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to prove that the statute imposes content-based restrictions which were not narrowly tailored to achieve the state’s purported compelling interest and that the statute was both overbroad and void for vagueness. With respect to content-based restrictions, the court held that the statute’s prohibition of Internet transmissions which "falsely identify" the sender constituted such a restriction which are presumptively invalid. Acknowledging that content-based restriction overcome this presumption only where the state can demonstrate that the statute is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest, the court agreed that the statute’s purpose -- fraud prevention -- was indeed compelling. However, the statute was not narrowly tailored because the statute’s criminal prohibition applied regardless whether a speaker intended to deceive or any deception had occurred. The court rejected several attempts by the defendants to graft onto the statute a number of limiting interpretation.


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The court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their overbreadth claim for similar reasons. The court expressed the traditional constitutional concern that statutes which are overbroad with respect to speech have "the potential to chill the expressive activity of others not before the Court" and concluded that the statute was not drafted with the precision necessary for such laws. In particular, the court noted that the statute prohibits various types of protected speech such as "the use of false identification to avoid social ostracism, to prevent discrimination and harassment, and to protect privacy." Finally, the court held that the statute likely was unconstitutionally vague for three reasons. First, it did not give fair notice of the scope of conduct it proscribes to computer network users because various phrases, such as "falsely identify," "use," "falsely imply," and point of access to electronic information" were not defined. Second, the court expressed concern that the statute’s vagueness created a risk of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement because its "failure to specifically articulate proscribed conduct affords prosecutors and police officers substantial room for selective prosecution of persons who express minority views. Third, the court ruled that the statute and chilled the plaintiffs’ free expression, citing their affidavits documenting that they had self-censored due to their inability to discern exactly what the statute prohibited.


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