Telecommunications Act of 1996.86 This bill amended the Communications Act of 1934 and
significantly altered American telecommunication law by deregulating the broadcasting market in
order to “create competitive markets” in the telecommunication arena. 87
The CDA originally contained anti-indecency and anti-obscenity provisions. 88 The bill
provided criminal liability for a person who knowingly:
(A) uses an interactive computer service to send to a specific person or persons
under 18 years of age, or
(B) uses any . . . comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other
communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive
as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory
activities or organs . . . 89
In addition, the original language of the CDA provided criminal liability for “the transmission of”
materials that were “obscene or indecent” to persons that were known to be less than eighteen
years of age. 90
In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down these criminal liability provisions in Reno
v. American Civil Liberties Union. 91 The Court concluded that while it has “repeatedly
recognized the governmental interest in protecting children from harmful materials,” the anti-indecency and anti-obscenity provisions of the CDA posed an unacceptable burden on adult
speech: “[t]he CDA lacks the precision that the First Amendment requires when a statute
regulates the content of speech.” 92
Today, all that that remains of the Communications Decency Act is a separate provision
found at 47 U.S.C.A. § 230 entitled “Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive
material.” 93 This provision was not part of the Senate legislation, but was adopted from a House
of Representatives bill entitled the “Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act.” 94 It reads
in pertinent part:
(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material
( 1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer services shall be
treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by
another information content provider.
( 2) Civil Liability
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be
held liable on account of—
86 Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 (West) (codified in scattered sections of 47 U.S.C.A.); H.R.
REP. NO. 104-458, at 81 (1996) (Conf. Rep.), available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-104hrpt458/pdf/CRPT-
87 H.R. REP. NO. 104-458, at 117.
88 Id. at 187-97. The CDA was added as Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as an amendment in the Senate that was
adopted by Conference Committee. Telecommunications Act of 1996, 110 Stat. 56.
89 Telecommunications Act of 1996, 110 Stat. 56.
91 Reno v. Am. Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 873, 895 (1997).
92 Id. at 875, 846, 874.
93 47 U.S.C.A. § 230 (West 2013).
94 Howard Rheingold, Internet Censors Close to Success, CMC MAG. (Dec. 1, 1995),
http://www.ibiblio.org/cmc/mag/1995/dec/rheingold.html. The Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act was introduced by
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA) and Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Id.