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Supreme Court upholds ban on annoying, obscene e-mails

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor April 19 of a congressional measure outlawing obscene e-mails intended to annoy recipients.
Without comment, the justices affirmed a federal court ruling upholding a portion of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The high court, which struck down another portion of the CDA in 1997, supported a section of the law that, in part, prohibits interstate or foreign telecommunications transmission of any message that is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person.”
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court by ApolloMedia Corp., a San Francisco-based company that constructs sites on the Internet’s World Wide Web. The company’s websites, and some of its clients’ sites, use language it acknowledges may be considered “indecent” in some communities. One of its websites, www.annoy.com, enables visitors to compose, from preselected options, anonymous e-mails to government officials and other public figures.
ApolloMedia Corp. challenged the CDA as a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it banned more than “obscene” speech. A three-judge panel in California, however, ruled the law prohibited only “obscenity,” which is not protected by the First Amendment. The U.S. Justice Department agreed the measure only covered “obscene” speech.
According to the high court’s standard, in order for a work to be considered obscene it must appeal to the “prurient interest,” portray sexual acts in a “patently offensive way” and lack “serious artistic, political, or scientific value.”
The name of the case is ApolloMedia Corp. v. Reno.
The portion of CDA rejected by the Supreme Court two years ago prohibited the distribution through on-line computer services of “obscene or indecent” material to any person under 18. It also banned the depiction or description of “sexual or excretory activities or organs” that is “patently offensive,” according to community standards.
The high court said the ban violated “the First Amendment right of adults to make and obtain this speech.” The CDA regulated a variety of zones on the Internet, from news groups to chat rooms to e-mail to the World Wide Web, which the high court found too expansive.