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Introduction to the Internet

... including its components, access methods, etc. - written for the general reader

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Written as "findings of fact" by an appeals court judge (see introduction below), this is one of the very best introductions to the Internet which exists.
 
 

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Preface

This page describes in language for the general reader the Internet and all of its components, including networks (independent and self-maintaining), Internet access methods, E-mail, Mailing Lists, USENET Newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, Telnet, File Transfer Protocol, Gopher and the World-Wide Web. Written as findings of fact by an appeals court judge, it is one of the very best introductions to the Internet which exists.

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Internet Introduction - The Nature of Cyberspace

Below is an excerpt without footnotes from the full text of the decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania concerning the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in finding it "unconstitutional on its face." The proceedings were held before Sloviter, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Buckwalter and Dalzell, Judges, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and published on 12 June 1996.

 In their "Findings of Fact" section the justices pointed out that "all parties agree that in order to apprehend the legal questions at issue in these cases, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the exponentially growing, worldwide medium that is the Internet, which presents unique issues relating to the application of First Amendment jurisprudence and due process requirements to this new and evolving method of communication. For this reason all parties insisted on having extensive evidentiary hearings before the three-judge court."

 This fortuitous agreement gave us the following excellent description, written for the general reader, of the Internet, its components, its access methods and operation.

In a related development, the above decision was appealed by the Justice Department to the U.S. Supreme Court (argued 19 March 1997), and decided 26 June 1997. The Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC) reported June 26th 1997 that the Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the Communications Decency Act violates the First Amendment. Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens held that "the CDA places an unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech" and found that all provisions of the CDA are unconsitutional as they apply to "indecent" or "patently offensive" speech. In a separate concurrence, Chief Justice William Rhenquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed that the provisions of the CDA are all unconsitutional except in their narrow application to "communications between an adult and one or more minors."

The CIEC also posts the syllabus (14 Kb) of the Supreme Court decision (96-511), the unanimous opinion (95 Kb; written by Justice John Paul Stevens) and a concurrence (30 Kb; written by Justices O'Connor and Rehnquist).

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FINDINGS OF FACT

All parties agree that in order to apprehend the legal questions at issue in these cases, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the exponentially growing, worldwide medium that is the Internet, which presents unique issues relating to the application of First Amendment jurisprudence and due process requirements to this new and evolving method of communication. For this reason all parties insisted on having extensive evidentiary hearings before the three-judge court.

 The court's Findings of fact are made pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.

 52(a). The history and basic technology of this medium are not in dispute, and the first forty-eight paragraphs of the following Findings of Fact are derived from the like- numbered paragraphs of a stipulation [8] the parties filed with the court. [9].

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The Nature of Cyberspace

The Creation of the Internet and the Development of Cyberspace

1. The Internet is not a physical or tangible entity, but rather a giant network which interconnects innumerable smaller groups of linked computer networks. It is thus a network of networks. This is best understood if one considers what a linked group of computers -- referred to here as a "network" -- is, and what it does. Small networks are now ubiquitous (and are often called "local area networks"). For example, in many United States Courthouses, computers are linked to each other for the purpose of exchanging files and messages (and to share equipment such as printers). These are networks. [Back to Table of Contents].

2. Some networks are "closed" networks, not linked to other computers or networks. Many networks, however, are connected to other networks, which are in turn connected to other networks in a manner which permits each computer in any network to communicate with computers on any other network in the system. This global Web of linked networks and computers is referred to as the Internet. [Back to Table of Contents].

3. The nature of the Internet is such that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to determine its size at a given moment. It is indisputable, however, that the Internet has experienced extraordinary growth in recent years. In 1981, fewer than 300 computers were linked to the Internet, and by 1989, the number stood at fewer than 90,000 computers. By 1993, over 1,000,000 computers were linked. Today, over 9,400,000 host computers worldwide, of which approximately 60 percent located within the United States, are estimated to be linked to the Internet. This count does not include the personal computers people use to access the Internet using modems. In all, reasonable estimates are that as many as 40 million people around the world can and do access the enormously flexible communication Internet medium. That figure is expected to grow to 200 million Internet users by the year 1999. [Back to Table of Contents].

4. Some of the computers and computer networks that make up the Internet are owned by governmental and public institutions, some are owned by non-profit organizations, and some are privately owned. The resulting whole is a decentralized, global medium of communications -- or "Cyberspace" -- that links people, institutions, corporations, and governments around the world. The Internet is an international system. This communications medium allows any of the literally tens of millions of people with access to the Internet to exchange information. These communications can occur almost instantaneously, and can be directed either to specific individuals, to a broader group of people interested in a particular subject, or to the world as a whole. [Back to Table of Contents].

5. The Internet had its origins in 1969 as an experimental project of the Advanced Research Project Agency ("ARPA"), and was called ARPANET. This network linked computers and computer networks owned by the military, defense contractors, and university laboratories conducting defense-related research. The network later allowed researchers across the country to access directly and to use extremely powerful supercomputers located at a few key universities and laboratories. As it evolved far beyond its research origins in the United States to encompass universities, corporations, and people around the world, the ARPANET came to be called the "DARPA Internet," and finally just the "Internet." [Back to Table of Contents].

6. From its inception, the network was designed to be a decentralized, self-maintaining series of redundant links between computers and computer networks, capable of rapidly transmitting communications without direct human involvement or control, and with the automatic ability to re-route communications if one or more individual links were damaged or otherwise unavailable. Among other goals, this redundant system of linked computers was designed to allow vital research and communications to continue even if portions of the network were damaged, say, in a war. [Back to Table of Contents].

7. To achieve this resilient nationwide (and ultimately global) communications medium, the ARPANET encouraged the creation of multiple links to and from each computer (or computer network) on the network. Thus, a computer located in Washington, D.C., might be linked (usually using dedicated telephone lines) to other computers in neighboring states or on the Eastern seaboard. Each of those computers could in turn be linked to other computers, which themselves would be linked to other computers. [Back to Table of Contents].

8. A communication sent over this redundant series of linked computers could travel any of a number of routes to its destination. Thus, a message sent from a computer in Washington, D.C., to a computer in Palo Alto, California, might first be sent to a computer in Philadelphia, and then be forwarded to a computer in Pittsburgh, and then to Chicago, Denver, and Salt Lake City, before finally reaching Palo Alto. If the message could not travel along that path (because of military attack, simple technical malfunction, or other reason), the message would automatically (without human intervention or even knowledge) be re-routed, perhaps, from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, and then to Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and finally to Palo Alto. This type of transmission, and re-routing, would likely occur in a matter of seconds. [Back to Table of Contents].

9. Messages between computers on the Internet do not necessarily travel entirely along the same path. The Internet uses "packet switching" communication protocols that allow individual messages to be subdivided into smaller "packets" that are then sent independently to the destination, and are then automatically reassembled by the receiving computer. While all packets of a given message often travel along the same path to the destination, if computers along the route become overloaded, then packets can be re-routed to less loaded computers. [Back to Table of Contents].

10. At the same time that ARPANET was maturing (it subsequently ceased to exist), similar networks developed to link universities, research facilities, businesses, and individuals around the world. These other formal or loose networks included BITNET, CSNET, FIDONET, and USENET. Eventually, each of these networks (many of which overlapped) were themselves linked together, allowing users of any computers linked to any one of the networks to transmit communications to users of computers on other networks. It is this series of linked networks (themselves linking computers and computer networks) that is today commonly known as the Internet. [Back to Table of Contents].

11. No single entity -- academic, corporate, governmental, or non- profit -- administers the Internet. It exists and functions as a result of the fact that hundreds of thousands of separate operators of computers and computer networks independently decided to use common data transfer protocols to exchange communications and information with other computers (which in turn exchange communications and information with still other computers). There is no centralized storage location, control point, or communications channel for the Internet, and it would not be technically feasible for a single entity to control all of the information conveyed on the Internet.

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How Individuals Access the Internet

12. Individuals have a wide variety of avenues to access Cyberspace in general, and the Internet in particular. In terms of physical access, there are two common methods to establish an actual link to the Internet. First, one can use a computer or computer terminal that is directly (and usually permanently) connected to a computer network that is itself directly or indirectly connected to the Internet. Second, one can use a "personal computer" with a "modem" to connect over a telephone line to a larger computer or computer network that is itself directly or indirectly connected to the Internet. As detailed below, both direct and modem connections are made available to people by a wide variety of academic, governmental, or commercial entities. [Back to Table of Contents].

13. Students, faculty, researchers, and others affiliated with the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States can access the Internet through their educational institutions. Such access is often via direct connection using computers located in campus libraries, offices, or computer centers, or may be through telephone access using a modem from a student's or professor's campus or off-campus location. Some colleges and universities install "ports" or outlets for direct network connections in each dormitory room or provide access via computers located in common areas in dormitories. Such access enables students and professors to use information and content provided by the college or university itself, and to use the vast amount of research resources and other information available on the Internet worldwide. [Back to Table of Contents].

14. Similarly, Internet resources and access are sufficiently important to many corporations and other employers that those employers link their office computer networks to the Internet and provide employees with direct or modem access to the office network (and thus to the Internet). Such access might be used by, for example, a corporation involved in scientific or medical research or manufacturing to enable corporate employees to exchange information and ideas with academic researchers in their fields. [Back to Table of Contents].

15. Those who lack access to the Internet through their schools or employers still have a variety of ways they can access the Internet. Many communities across the country have established "free-nets" or community networks to provide their citizens with a local link to the Internet (and to provide local- oriented content and discussion groups). The first such community network, the Cleveland Free-Net Community Computer System, was established in 1986, and free-nets now exist in scores of communities as diverse as Richmond, Virginia, Tallahassee, Florida, Seattle, Washington, and San Diego, California. Individuals typically can access free-nets at little or no cost via modem connection or by using computers available in community buildings. Free-nets are often operated by a local library, educational institution, or non-profit community group. [Back to Table of Contents].

16. Individuals can also access the Internet through many local libraries. Libraries often offer patrons use of computers that are linked to the Internet. In addition, some libraries offer telephone modem access to the libraries' computers, which are themselves connected to the Internet. Increasingly, patrons now use library services and resources without ever physically entering the library itself. Libraries typically provide such direct or modem access at no cost to the individual user. [Back to Table of Contents].

17. Individuals can also access the Internet by patronizing an increasing number of storefront "computer coffee shops," where customers -- while they drink their coffee -- can use computers provided by the shop to access the Internet. Such Internet access is typically provided by the shop for a small hourly fee. [Back to Table of Contents].

18. Individuals can also access the Internet through commercial and non- commercial "Internet service providers" that typically offer modem telephone access to a computer or computer network linked to the Internet. Many such providers -- including the members of plaintiff Commercial Internet Exchange Association -- are commercial entities offering Internet access for a monthly or hourly fee. Some Internet service providers, however, are non-profit organizations that offer free or very low cost access to the Internet. For example, the International Internet Association offers free modem access to the Internet upon request. Also, a number of trade or other non-profit associations offer Internet access as a service to members. [Back to Table of Contents].

19. Another common way for individuals to access the Internet is through one of the major national commercial "on-line services" such as America Online, CompuServe, the Microsoft Network, or Prodigy. These on-line services offer nationwide computer networks (so that subscribers can dial-in to a local telephone number), and the services provide extensive and well organized content within their own proprietary computer networks. In addition to allowing access to the extensive content available within each on-line service, the services also allow subscribers to link to the much larger resources of the Internet. Full access to the on-line service (including access to the Internet) can be obtained for modest monthly or hourly fees. The major commercial on-line services have almost twelve million individual subscribers across the United States. [Back to Table of Contents].

20. In addition to using the national commercial on-line services, individuals can also access the Internet using some (but not all) of the thousands of local dial-in computer services, often called "bulletin board systems" or "BBSs." With an investment of as little as $2,000.00 and the cost of a telephone line, individuals, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, and businesses can offer their own dial-in computer "bulletin board" service where friends, members, subscribers, or customers can exchange ideas and information. BBSs range from single computers with only one telephone line into the computer (allowing only one user at a time), to single computers with many telephone lines into the computer (allowing multiple simultaneous users), to multiple linked computers each servicing multiple dial-in telephone lines (allowing multiple simultaneous users). Some (but not all) of these BBS systems offer direct or indirect links to the Internet. Some BBS systems charge users a nominal fee for access, while many others are free to the individual users. [Back to Table of Contents].

21. Although commercial access to the Internet is growing rapidly, many users of the Internet -- such as college students and staff -- do not individually pay for access (except to the extent, for example, that the cost of computer services is a component of college tuition). These and other Internet users can access the Internet without paying for such access with a credit card or other form of payment.

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Methods to Communicate Over the Internet

22. Once one has access to the Internet, there are a wide variety of different methods of communication and information exchange over the network. These many methods of communication and information retrieval are constantly evolving and are therefore difficult to categorize concisely. The most common methods of communications on the Internet (as well as within the major on- line services) can be roughly grouped into six categories: Most of these methods of communication can be used to transmit text, data, computer programs, sound, visual images (i.e., pictures), and moving video images. [Back to Table of Contents].

23. One-to-one messaging. One method of communication on the Internet is via electronic mail, or "e-mail," comparable in principle to sending a first class letter. One can address and transmit a message to one or more other people. E-mail on the Internet is not routed through a central control point, and can take many and varying paths to the recipients. Unlike postal mail, simple e-mail generally is not "sealed" or secure, and can be accessed or viewed on intermediate computers between the sender and recipient (unless the message is encrypted). [Back to Table of Contents].

24. One-to-many messaging. The Internet also contains automatic mailing list services (such as "listservs"), [also referred to by witnesses as "mail exploders"] that allow communications about particular subjects of interest to a group of people. For example, people can subscribe to a "listserv" mailing list on a particular topic of interest to them. The subscriber can submit messages on the topic to the listserv that are forwarded (via e-mail), either automatically or through a human moderator overseeing the listserv, to anyone who has subscribed to the mailing list. A recipient of such a message can reply to the message and have the reply also distributed to everyone on the mailing list. This service provides the capability to keep abreast of developments or events in a particular subject area. Most listserv-type mailing lists automatically forward all incoming messages to all mailing list subscribers. There are thousands of such mailing list services on the Internet, collectively with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Users of "open" listservs typically can add or remove their names from the mailing list automatically, with no direct human involvement. Listservs may also be "closed," i.e., only allowing for one's acceptance into the listserv by a human moderator. [Back to Table of Contents].

25. Distributed message databases. Similar in function to listservs -- but quite different in how communications are transmitted -- are distributed message databases such as "USENET Newsgroups." User-sponsored Newsgroups are among the most popular and widespread applications of Internet services, and cover all imaginable topics of interest to users. Like listservs, Newsgroups are open discussions and exchanges on particular topics. Users, however, need not subscribe to the discussion mailing list in advance, but can instead access the database at any time. Some USENET Newsgroups are "moderated" but most are open access. For the moderated Newsgroups, [10] all messages to the newsgroup are forwarded to one person who can screen them for relevance to the topics under discussion. USENET Newsgroups are disseminated using ad hoc, peer to peer connections between approximately 200,000 computers (called USENET "servers") around the world. For un-moderated Newsgroups, when an individual user with access to a USENET server posts a message to a newsgroup, the message is automatically forwarded to all adjacent USENET servers that furnish access to the newsgroup, and it is then propagated to the servers adjacent to those servers, etc. The messages are temporarily stored on each receiving server, where they are available for review and response by individual users. The messages are automatically and periodically purged from each system after a time to make room for new messages. Responses to messages, like the original messages, are automatically distributed to all other computers receiving the newsgroup or forwarded to a moderator in the case of a moderated newsgroup. The dissemination of messages to USENET servers around the world is an automated process that does not require direct human intervention or review. [Back to Table of Contents].

26. There are Newsgroups on more than fifteen thousand different subjects. In 1994, approximately 70,000 messages were posted to Newsgroups each day, and those messages were distributed to the approximately 190,000 computers or computer networks that participate in the USENET newsgroup system. Once the messages reach the approximately 190,000 receiving computers or computer networks, they are available to individual users of those computers or computer networks. [In 1996 somewhere around 300,000 new messages (or "articles") are posted to Newsgroups each day]. [Back to Table of Contents].

27. Real time communication. In addition to transmitting messages that can be later read or accessed, individuals on the Internet can engage in an immediate dialog, in "real time", with other people on the Internet. In its simplest forms, "talk" allows one-to-one communications and "Internet Relay Chat" (or IRC) allows two or more to type messages to each other that almost immediately appear on the others' computer screens. IRC is analogous to a telephone party line, using a computer and keyboard rather than a telephone. With IRC, however, at any one time there are thousands of different party lines available, in which collectively tens of thousands of users are engaging in conversations on a huge range of subjects. Moreover, one can create a new party line to discuss a different topic at any time. Some IRC conversations are "moderated" or include "channel operators." [Back to Table of Contents].

28. In addition, commercial on-line services such as America Online, CompuServe, the Microsoft Network, and Prodigy have their own "chat" systems allowing their members to converse. [Back to Table of Contents].

29. Real time remote computer utilization. Another method to use information on the Internet is to access and control remote computers in "real time" using "Telnet." For example, using Telnet, a researcher at a university would be able to use the computing power of a supercomputer located at a different university. A student can use Telnet to connect to a remote library to access the library's on-line card catalog program. [Back to Table of Contents].

30. Remote information retrieval. The final major category of communication may be the most well known use of the Internet -- the search for and retrieval of information located on remote computers. There are three primary methods to locate and retrieve information on the Internet [see FTP and "gopher" in #31 and #32 below. The third is the World-Wide Web; see section immediately following.] - [Back to Table of Contents].

31. A simple method uses "FTP" (or file transfer protocol) to list the names of computer files available on a remote computer, and to transfer one or more of those files to an individual's local computer. [Back to Table of Contents].

32. Another approach uses a program and format named "gopher" to guide an individual's search through the resources available on a remote computer.

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The World Wide Web

33. A third approach, and fast becoming the most well- known on the Internet, is the "World Wide Web." The Web utilizes a "hypertext" formatting language called hypertext markup language (HTML), and programs that "browse" the Web can display HTML documents containing text, images, sound, animation and moving video. Any HTML document can include links to other types of information or resources, so that while viewing an HTML document that, for example, describes resources available on the Internet, one can "click" using a computer mouse on the description of the resource and be immediately connected to the resource itself. Such "hyperlinks" allow information to be accessed and organized in very flexible ways, and allow people to locate and efficiently view related information even if the information is stored on numerous computers all around the world. [Back to Table of Contents].

34. Purpose. The World Wide Web (W3C) was created to serve as the platform for a global, on-line store of knowledge, containing information from a diversity of sources and accessible to Internet users around the world. Though information on the Web is contained in individual computers, the fact that each of these computers is connected to the Internet through W3C protocols allows all of the information to become part of a single body of knowledge. It is currently the most advanced information system developed on the Internet, and embraces within its data model most information in previous networked information systems such as FTP, gopher, was, and USENET. [Back to Table of Contents].

35. History. W3C was originally developed at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, and was initially used to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams of researchers and engineers. Originally aimed at the High Energy Physics community, it has spread to other areas and attracted much interest in user support, resource recovery, and many other areas which depend on collaborative and information sharing. The Web has extended beyond the scientific and academic community to include communications by individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses. [Back to Table of Contents].

36. Basic Operation. The World Wide Web is a series of documents stored in different computers all over the Internet. Documents contain information stored in a variety of formats, including text, still images, sounds, and video. An essential element of the Web is that any document has an address (rather like a telephone number). Most Web documents contain "links." These are short sections of text or image which refer to another document. Typically the linked text is blue or underlined when displayed, and when selected by the user, the referenced document is automatically displayed, wherever in the world it actually is stored. Links for example are used to lead from overview documents to more detailed documents, from tables of contents to particular pages, but also as cross- references, footnotes, and new forms of information structure. [Back to Table of Contents].

37. Many organizations now have "home pages" on the Web. These are documents which provide a set of links designed to represent the organization, and through links from the home page, guide the user directly or indirectly to information about or relevant to that organization. [Back to Table of Contents].

38. As an example of the use of links, if these Findings were to be put on a World Wide Web site, its home page might contain links such as those:

The Table of Contents of this document is another example of links within a document.
 
 

39. Each of these links takes the user of the site from the beginning of the Findings to the appropriate section within this Adjudication. Links may also take the user from the original Web site to another Web site on another computer connected to the Internet. These links from one computer to another, from one document to another across the Internet, are what unify the Web into a single body of knowledge, and what makes the Web unique. The Web was designed with a maximum target time to follow a link of one tenth of a second. [Back to Table of Contents].

40. Publishing. The World Wide Web exists fundamentally as a platform through which people and organizations can communicate through shared information. When information is made available, it is said to be "published" on the Web. Publishing on the Web simply requires that the "publisher" has a computer connected to the Internet and that the computer is running W3C server software. The computer can be as simple as a small personal computer costing less than $1500 dollars or as complex as a multi-million dollar mainframe computer. Many Web publishers choose instead to lease disk storage space from someone else who has the necessary computer facilities, eliminating the need for actually owning any equipment oneself. [Back to Table of Contents].

41. The Web, as a universe of network accessible information, contains a variety of documents prepared with quite varying degrees of care, from the hastily typed idea, to the professionally executed corporate profile. The power of the Web stems from the ability of a link to point to any document, regardless of its status or physical location. [Back to Table of Contents].

42. Information to be published on the Web must also be formatted according to the rules of the Web standards. These standardized formats assure that all Web users who want to read the material will be able to view it. Web standards are sophisticated and flexible enough that they have grown to meet the publishing needs of many large corporations, banks, brokerage houses, newspapers and magazines which now publish "on-line" editions of their material, as well as government agencies, and even courts, which use the Web to disseminate information to the public. At the same time, Web publishing is simple enough that thousands of individual users and small community organizations are using the Web to publish their own personal "home pages," the equivalent of individualized newsletters about that person or organization, which are available to everyone on the Web. [Back to Table of Contents].

 [More on standards may be seen in #45 - Common Standards, below.] [Back to Table of Contents].
 
 

43. Web publishers have a choice to make their Web sites open to the general pool of all Internet users, or close them, thus making the information accessible only to those with advance authorization. Many publishers choose to keep their sites open to all in order to give their information the widest potential audience. In the event that the publishers choose to maintain restrictions on access, this may be accomplished by assigning specific user names and passwords as a prerequisite to access to the site. Or, in the case of Web sites maintained for internal use of one organization, access will only be allowed from other computers within that organization's local network. [11]. [Back to Table of Contents].

44. Searching the Web. A variety of systems have developed that allow users of the Web to search particular information among all of the public sites that are part of the Web. Services such as Yahoo, Magellan, AltaVista, Webcrawler, and Lycos are all services known as "search engines" which allow users to search for Web sites that contain certain categories of information, or to search for key words. For example, a Web user looking for the text of Supreme Court opinions would type the words "Supreme Court" into a search engine, and then be presented with a list of World Wide Web sites that contain Supreme Court information. This list would actually be a series of links to those sites. Having searched out a number of sites that might contain the desired information, the user would then follow individual links, browsing through the information on each site, until the desired material is found. For many content providers on the Web, the ability to be found by these search engines is very important. [Back to Table of Contents].

45. Common standards. The Web links together disparate information on an ever-growing number of Internet- linked computers by setting common information storage formats (HTML) and a common language for the exchange of Web documents (HTTP). Although the information itself may be in many different formats, and stored on computers which are not otherwise compatible, the basic Web standards provide a basic set of standards which allow communication and exchange of information. Despite the fact that many types of computers are used on the Web, and the fact that many of these machines are otherwise incompatible, those who "publish" information on the Web are able to communicate with those who seek to access information with little difficulty because of these basic technical standards. [Back to Table of Contents].

46. A distributed system with no centralized control. Running on tens of thousands of individual computers on the Internet, the Web is what is known as a distributed system. The Web was designed so that organizations with computers containing information can become part of the Web simply by attaching their computers to the Internet and running appropriate World Wide Web software. No single organization controls any membership in the Web, nor is there any single centralized point from which individual Web sites or services can be blocked from the Web. From a user's perspective, it may appear to be a single, integrated system, but in reality it has no centralized control point. [Back to Table of Contents].

47. Contrast to closed databases. The Web's open, distributed, decentralized nature stands in sharp contrast to most information systems that have come before it. Private information services such as Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis, and Dialog, have contained large storehouses of knowledge, and can be accessed from the Internet with the appropriate passwords and access software. However, these databases are not linked together into a single whole, as is the World Wide Web. [Back to Table of Contents].

48. Success of the Web in research, education, and political activities. The World Wide Web has become so popular because of its open, distributed, and easy-to-use nature. Rather than requiring those who seek information to purchase new software or hardware, and to learn a new kind of system for each new database of information they seek to access, the Web environment makes it easy for users to jump from one set of information to another. By the same token, the open nature of the Web makes it easy for publishers to reach their intended audiences without having to know in advance what kind of computer each potential reader has, and what kind of software they will be using.

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The following paragraphs may provide insight into the kinds of problems the legislation was aimed at, and the remedies offered by CDA.
 

Restricting Access to Unwanted On-Line Material [12] PICS

49. With the rapid growth of the Internet, the increasing popularity of the Web, and the existence of material on-line that some parents may consider inappropriate for their children, various entities have begun to build systems intended to enable parents to control the material which comes into their homes and may be accessible to their children. The World Wide Web Consortium launched the PICS ("Platform for Internet Content Selection") program in order to develop technical standards that would support parents' ability to filter and screen material that their children see on the Web. [Back to Table of Contents].

 50. The Consortium intends that PICS will provide the ability for third parties, as well as individual content providers, to rate content on the Internet in a variety of ways. When fully implemented, PICS- compatible World Wide Web browsers, USENET News Group readers, and other Internet applications, will provide parents the ability to choose from a variety of rating services, or a combination of services. [Back to Table of Contents].

 51. PICS working group [PICS-WG] participants include many of the major on-line services providers, commercial Internet access providers, hardware and software companies, major Internet content providers, and consumer organizations. Among active participants in the PICS effort are:

52. Membership in the PICS-WG includes a broad cross- section of companies from the computer, communications, and content industries, as well as trade associations and public interest groups. PICS technical specifications have been agreed to, allowing the Internet community to begin to deploy products and services based on the PICS-standards. [Back to Table of Contents].

 53. Until a majority of sites on the Internet have been rated by a PICS rating service, PICS will initially function as a "positive" ratings system in which only those sites that have been rated will be displayed using PICS compatible software. In other words, PICS will initially function as a site inclusion list rather than a site exclusion list. The default configuration for a PICS compatible Internet application will be to block access to all sites which have not been rated by a PICS rating service, while allowing access to sites which have a PICS rating for appropriate content. [14].

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Software

54. For over a year, various companies have marketed stand alone software that is intended to enable parents and other adults to limit the Internet access of children. Examples of such software include: Cyber Patrol, CYBERsitter, The Internet Filter, Net Nanny, Parental Guidance, SurfWatch, Netscape Proxy Server, and WebTrack. The market for this type of software is growing, and there is increasing competition among software providers to provide products.

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Cyber Patrol

55. As more people, particularly children, began to use the Internet, Microsystems Software, Inc. decided to develop and market Internet software intended to empower parents to exercise individual choice over what material their children could access. Microsystems' stated intent is to develop a product which would give parents comfort that their children can reap the benefits of the Internet while shielding them from objectionable or otherwise inappropriate materials based on the parents' own particular tastes and values. Microsystems' product, Cyber Patrol, was developed to address this need. [Back to Table of Contents].

 56. Cyber Patrol was first introduced in August 1995, and is currently available in Windows and Macintosh versions. Cyber Patrol works with both direct Internet Access providers (ISPs, e.g., Netcom, PSI, UUnet), and Commercial Online Service Providers (e.g., America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, Microsoft). Cyber Patrol is also compatible with all major World Wide Web browsers on the market (e.g., Netscape, Navigator, Mosaic, Prodigy's Legacy and Skimmer browsers, America Online, Netcom's NetCruiser, etc.). Cyber Patrol was the first parental empowerment application to be compatible with the PICS standard. In February of 1996, Microsystems put the first PICS ratings server on the Internet. [Back to Table of Contents].

 57. The CyberNOT list contains approximately 7000 sites in twelve categories. The software is designed to enable parents to selectively block access to any or all of the twelve CyberNOT categories simply by checking boxes in the Cyber Patrol Headquarters (the Cyber Patrol program manager). These categories are:

58. Microsystems employs people to search the Internet for sites containing material in these categories. Since new sites are constantly coming on-line, Microsystems updates the CyberNOT list on a weekly basis. Once installed on the home PC, the copy of Cyber Patrol receives automatic updates to the CyberNOT list over the Internet every seven days. [Back to Table of Contents].

 59. In February of 1996, Microsystems signed a licensing arrangement with CompuServe, one of the leading commercial on-line services with over 4.3 million subscribers. CompuServe provides Cyber Patrol free of charge to its subscribers. Microsystems the same month signed a licensing arrangement with Prodigy, another leading commercial on-line service with over 1.4 million subscribers. Prodigy will provide Cyber Patrol free of charge of its subscribers. [Back to Table of Contents].

 60. Cyber Patrol is also available directly from Microsystems for $49.95, which includes a six month subscription to the CyberNOT blocked sites list (updated automatically once every seven days). After six months, parents can receive six months of additional updates for $19.95, or twelve months for $29.95. Cyber Patrol Home Edition, a limited version of Cyber Patrol, is available free of charge on the Internet. To obtain either version, parents download a seven day demonstration version of the full Cyber Patrol product from the Microsystems Internet World Wide Web Server. At the end of the seven day trial period, users are offered the opportunity to purchase the complete version of Cyber Patrol or provide Microsystems some basic demographic information in exchange for unlimited use of the Home Edition. The demographic information is used for marketing and research purposes. Since January of 1996, over 10,000 demonstration copies of Cyber Patrol have been downloaded from Microsystems' Web site. [Back to Table of Contents].

 61. Cyber Patrol is also available from Retail outlets as NetBlocker Plus. NetBlocker Plus sells for $19.95, which includes five weeks of updates to the CyberNOT list. [Back to Table of Contents].

 62. Microsystems also sells Cyber Patrol into a growing market in schools. As more classrooms become connected to the Internet, many teachers want to ensure that their students can receive the benefit of the Internet without encountering material they deem educationally inappropriate. [Back to Table of Contents].

 63. Microsystems is working with the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC), a non-profit corporation which developed rating systems for video games, to implement the RSAC rating system for the Internet. [Back to Table of Contents].

 64. The next release of Cyber Patrol, expected in second quarter of this year, will give parents the ability to use any PICS rating service, including the RSAC rating service, in addition to the Microsystems CyberNOT list. [Back to Table of Contents].

 65. In order to speed the implementation of PICS and encourage the development of PICS-compatible Internet applications, Microsystems maintains a server on the Internet which contains its CyberNOT list. The server provides software developers with access to a PICS rating service, and allows software developers to test their products' ability to interpret standard PICS labels. Microsystems is also offering its PICS client test program for Windows free of charge. The client program can be used by developers of PICS rating services to test their services and products.

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SurfWatch

66. Another software product, SurfWatch, is also designed to allow parents and other concerned users to filter unwanted material on the Internet. SurfWatch is available for both Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, and Microsoft Windows 95 Operating Systems, and works with direct Internet Access Providers (e.g., Netcom, PSI, UUnet, AT& T, and more than 1000 other Internet Service Providers). [Back to Table of Contents].

 67. The suggested retail price of SurfWatch Software is $49.95, with a street price of between $20.00 and $25.00. The product is also available as part of CompuServe/Spry Inc.'s Internet in a Box for Kids, which includes access to Spry's Kids only Internet service and a copy of SurfWatch. Internet in a Box for Kids retails for approximately $30.00. The subscription service, which updates the SurfWatch blocked site list automatically with new sites each month, is available for $5.95 per month or $60.00 per year. The subscription is included as part of the Internet in a Box for Kids program, and is also provided as a low-cost option from Internet Service Providers. [Back to Table of Contents].

 68. SurfWatch is available at over 12,000 retail locations, including National stores such as Comp USA, Egghead Software, Computer City, and several national mail order outlets. SurfWatch can also be ordered directly from its own site on the World Wide Web, and through the Internet Shopping Network. [Back to Table of Contents].

 69. Plaintiffs America Online (AOL), Microsoft Network, and Prodigy all offer parental control options free of charge to their members. AOL has established an on-line area designed specifically for children. The "Kids Only" parental control feature allows parents to establish an AOL account for their children that accesses only the Kids Only channel on America Online. [15]. [Back to Table of Contents].

 70. AOL plans to incorporate PICS-compatible capability into its standard Web browser software, and to make available to subscribers other PICS-compatible Web browsers, such as the Netscape software. [Back to Table of Contents].

 71. Plaintiffs CompuServe and Prodigy give their subscribers the option of blocking all access to the Internet, or to particular media within their proprietary on-line content, such as bulletin boards and chat rooms. [Back to Table of Contents].

 72. Although parental control software currently can screen for certain suggestive words or for known sexually explicit sites, it cannot now screen for sexually explicit images unaccompanied by suggestive text unless those who configure the software are aware of the particular site. [Back to Table of Contents].

 73. Despite its limitations, currently available user- based software suggests that a reasonably effective method by which parents can prevent their children from accessing sexually explicit and other material which parents may believe is inappropriate for their children will soon be widely available.

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Content on the Internet

74. The types of content now on the Internet defy easy classification. The entire card catalogue of the Carnegie Library is on-line, together with journals, journal abstracts, popular magazines, and titles of compact discs. The director of the Carnegie Library, Robert Croneberger, testified that on-line services are the emerging trend in libraries generally. Plaintiff Hotwired Ventures LLC organizes its Web site into information regarding travel, news and commentary, arts and entertainment, politics, and types of drinks. Plaintiff America Online, Inc., not only creates chat rooms for a broad variety of topics, but also allows members to create their own chat rooms to suit their own tastes. The ACLU uses an America Online chat room as an un-moderated forum for people to debate civil liberties issues. Plaintiffs' expert, Scott Bradner, [16] estimated that 15,000 Newsgroups exist today, and he described his own interest in a newsgroup devoted solely to Formula 1 racing cars. America Online makes 15,000 bulletin boards available to its subscribers, who post between 200,000 and 250,000 messages each day. Another plaintiffs' expert, Harold Rheingold, participates in "virtual communities" that simulate social interaction. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the content on the Internet is as diverse as human thought. [Back to Table of Contents].

 75. The Internet is not exclusively, or even primarily, a means of commercial communication. Many commercial entities maintain Web sites to inform potential consumers about their goods and services, or to solicit purchases, but many other Web sites exist solely for the dissemination of non-commercial information. The other forms of Internet communication -- e- mail, bulletin boards, Newsgroups, and chat rooms -- frequently have non-commercial goals. For the economic and technical reasons set forth in the following paragraphs, the Internet is an especially attractive means for not-for-profit entities or public interest groups to reach their desired audiences. There are examples in the parties' stipulation of some of the non- commercial uses that the Internet serves. Plaintiff Human Rights Watch, Inc., offers information on its Internet site regarding reported human rights abuses around the world. Plaintiff National Writers Union provides a forum for writers on issues of concern to them. Plaintiff Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc., posts text, graphics, and statistics regarding the incidence and prevention of rape in prisons. Plaintiff Critical Path AIDS Project, Inc., offers information on safer sex, the transmission of HIV, and the treatment of AIDS. [Back to Table of Contents].

 76. Such diversity of content on the Internet is possible because the Internet provides an easy and inexpensive way for a speaker to reach a large audience, potentially of millions. The start-up and operating costs entailed by communication on the Internet are significantly lower than those associated with use of other forms of mass communication, such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. This enables operation of their own Web sites not only by large companies, such as Microsoft and Time Warner, but also by small, not-for- profit groups, such as Stop Prisoner Rape and Critical Path AIDS Project. The Government's expert, Dr. Dan R. Olsen, [17] agreed that creation of a Web site would cost between $1,000 and $15,000, with monthly operating costs depending on one's goals and the Web site's traffic. Commercial on-line services such as America Online allow subscribers to create Web pages free of charge. Any Internet user can communicate by posting a message to one of the thousands of Newsgroups and bulletin boards or by engaging in an on-line "chat", and thereby reach an audience worldwide that shares an interest in a particular topic. [Back to Table of Contents].

 77. The ease of communication through the Internet is facilitated by the use of hypertext markup language (HTML), which allows for the creation of "hyperlinks" or "links". HTML enables a user to jump from one source to other related sources by clicking on the link. A link might take the user from Web site to Web site, or to other files within a particular Web site. Similarly, by typing a request into a search engine, a user can retrieve many different sources of content related to the search that the creators of the engine have collected. [Back to Table of Contents].

 78. Because of the technology underlying the Internet, the statutory term "content provider," [18] which is equivalent to the traditional "speaker," may actually be a hybrid of speakers. Through the use of HTML, for example, Critical Path and Stop Prisoner Rape link their Web sites to several related databases, and a user can immediately jump from the home pages of these organizations to the related databases simply by clicking on a link. America Online creates chat rooms for particular discussions but also allows subscribers to create their own chat rooms. Similarly, a newsgroup gathers postings on a particular topic and distributes them to the newsgroup's subscribers. Users of the Carnegie Library can read on-line versions of Vanity Fair and Playboy, and America Online's subscribers can peruse the New York Times, Boating, and other periodicals. Critical Path, Stop Prisoner Rape, America Online and the Carnegie Library all make available content of other speakers over whom they have little or no editorial control. [Back to Table of Contents].

 79. Because of the different forms of Internet communication, a user of the Internet may speak or listen interchangeably, blurring the distinction between "speakers" and "listeners" on the Internet. Chat rooms, e-mail, and Newsgroups are interactive forms of communication, providing the user with the opportunity both to speak and to listen. [Back to Table of Contents].

 80. It follows that unlike traditional media, the barriers to entry as a speaker on the Internet do not differ significantly from the barriers to entry as a listener. Once one has entered Cyberspace, one may engage in the dialogue that occurs there. In the argot of the medium, the receiver can and does become the content provider, and vice-versa. [Back to Table of Contents].

 81. The Internet is therefore a unique and wholly new medium of worldwide human communication.

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Sexually Explicit Material On the Internet

82. The parties agree that sexually explicit material exists on the Internet. Such material includes text, pictures, and chat, and includes bulletin boards, Newsgroups, and the other forms of Internet communication, and extends from the modestly titillating to the hardest-core. [Back to Table of Contents].

 83. There is no evidence that sexually-oriented material is the primary type of content on this new medium. Purveyors of such material take advantage of the same ease of access available to all users of the Internet, including establishment of a Web site. [Back to Table of Contents].

 84. Sexually explicit material is created, named, and posted in the same manner as material that is not sexually explicit. It is possible that a search engine can accidentally retrieve material of a sexual nature through an imprecise search, as demonstrated at the hearing. Imprecise searches may also retrieve irrelevant material that is not of a sexual nature. The accidental retrieval of sexually explicit material is one manifestation of the larger phenomenon of irrelevant search results. [Back to Table of Contents].

 85. Once a provider posts content on the Internet, it is available to all other Internet users worldwide. Similarly, once a user posts a message to a newsgroup or bulletin board, that message becomes available to all subscribers to that newsgroup or bulletin board. For example, when the UCR/California Museum of Photography posts to its Web site nudes by Edward Weston and Robert Mapplethorpe to announce that its new exhibit will travel to Baltimore and New York City, those images are available not only in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and New York City, but also in Cincinnati, Mobile, or Beijing -- wherever Internet users live. Similarly, the safer sex instructions that Critical Path posts to its Web site, written in street language so that the teenage receiver can understand them, are available not just in Philadelphia, but also in Provo and Prague. A chat room organized by the ACLU to discuss the United States Supreme Court's decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation would transmit George Carlin's seven dirty words to anyone who enters. Messages posted to a newsgroup dedicated to the Oklahoma City bombing travel to all subscribers to that newsgroup. [Back to Table of Contents].

 86. Once a provider posts its content on the Internet, it cannot prevent that content from entering any community. Unlike the newspaper, broadcast station, or cable system, Internet technology necessarily gives a speaker a potential worldwide audience. Because the Internet is a network of networks (as described above in Findings 1 through 4), any network connected to the Internet has the capacity to send and receive information to any other network. Hotwired Ventures, for example, cannot prevent its materials on mixology from entering communities that have no interest in that topic. [Back to Table of Contents].

 87. Demonstrations at the preliminary injunction hearings showed that it takes several steps to enter Cyberspace. At the most fundamental level, a user must have access to a computer with the ability to reach the Internet (typically by way of a modem). A user must then direct the computer to connect with the access provider, enter a password, and enter the appropriate commands to find particular data. On the World Wide Web, a user must normally use a search engine or enter an appropriate address. Similarly, accessing Newsgroups, bulletin boards, and chat rooms requires several steps. [Back to Table of Contents].

 88. Communications over the Internet do not "invade" an individual's home or appear on one's computer screen unbidden. Users seldom encounter content "by accident." A document's title or a description of the document will usually appear before the document itself takes the step needed to view it, and in many cases the user will receive detailed information about a site's content before he or she need take the step to access the document. Almost all sexually explicit images are preceded by warnings as to the content. Even the Government's witness, Agent Howard Schmidt, Director of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, testified that the "odds are slim" that a user would come across a sexually explicit site by accident. [Back to Table of Contents].

 89. Evidence adduced at the hearing showed significant differences between Internet communications and communications received by radio or television. Although content on the Internet is just a few clicks of a mouse away from the user, the receipt of information on the Internet requires a series of affirmative steps more deliberate and directed than merely turning a dial. A child requires some sophistication and some ability to read to retrieve material and thereby to use the Internet unattended.

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Obstacles to Age Verification on the Internet

90. There is no effective way to determine the identity or the age of a user who is accessing material through e-mail, mail exploders, Newsgroups or chat rooms. An e-mail address provides no authoritative information about the addressee, who may use an e-mail "alias" or an anonymous remailer. There is also no universal or reliable listing of e- mail addresses and corresponding names or telephone numbers, and any such listing would be or rapidly become incomplete. For these reasons, there is no reliable way in many instances for a sender to know if the e-mail recipient is an adult or a minor. The difficulty of e-mail age verification is compounded for mail exploders such as listservs, which automatically send information to all e-mail addresses on a sender's list. Government expert Dr. Olsen agreed that no current technology could give a speaker assurance that only adults were listed in a particular mail exploder's mailing list. [Back to Table of Contents].

 91. Because of similar technological difficulties, individuals posting a message to a newsgroup or engaging in chat room discussions cannot ensure that all readers are adults, and Dr. Olsen agreed. Although some Newsgroups are moderated, the moderator's control is limited to what is posted and the moderator cannot control who receives the messages. [Back to Table of Contents].

 92. The Government offered no evidence that there is a reliable way to ensure that recipients and participants in such fora can be screened for age. The Government presented no evidence demonstrating the feasibility of its suggestion that chat rooms, Newsgroups and other fora that contain material deemed indecent could be effectively segregated to "adult" or "moderated" areas of Cyberspace. [Back to Table of Contents].

 93. Even if it were technologically feasible to block minors' access to Newsgroups and similar fora, there is no method by which the creators of Newsgroups which contain discussions of art, politics or any other subject that could potentially elicit "indecent" contributions could limit the blocking of access by minors to such "indecent" material and still allow them access to the remaining content, even if the overwhelming majority of that content was not indecent. [Back to Table of Contents].

 94. Likewise, participants in MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) and MUSEs (Multi-User Simulation Environments) do not know whether the other participants are adults or minors. Although MUDs and MUSEs require a password for permanent participants, they need not give their real name nor verify their age, and there is no current technology to enable the administrator of these fantasy worlds to know if the participant is an adult or a minor. [Back to Table of Contents].

 95. Unlike other forms of communication on the Internet, there is technology by which an operator of a World Wide Web server may interrogate a user of a Web site. An HTML document can include a fill-in- the-blank "form" to request information from a visitor to a Web site, and this information can be transmitted back to the Web server and be processed by a computer program, usually a Common Gateway Interface (cgi) script. The Web server could then grant or deny access to the information sought. The cgi script is the means by which a Web site can process a fill-in form and thereby screen visitors by requesting a credit card number or adult password. [Back to Table of Contents].

 96. Content providers who publish on the World Wide Web via one of the large commercial on-line services, such as America Online or CompuServe, could not use an on-line age verification system that requires cgi script because the server software of these on-line services available to subscribers cannot process cgi scripts. There is no method currently available for Web page publishers who lack access to cgi scripts to screen recipients on-line for age.

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The Practicalities of the Proffered Defenses

Note: The Government contends the CDA makes available three potential defenses to all content providers on the Internet: credit card verification, adult verification by password or adult identification number, and "tagging".

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Credit Card Verification

97. Verification [19] of a credit card number over the Internet is not now technically possible. Witnesses testified that neither Visa nor Mastercard considers the Internet to be sufficiently secure under the current technology to process transactions in that manner. Although users can and do purchase products over the Internet by transmitting their credit card number, the seller must then process the transaction with Visa or Mastercard off-line using phone lines in the traditional way. There was testimony by several witnesses that Visa and Mastercard are in the process of developing means of credit card verification over the Internet. [Back to Table of Contents].

 98. Verification by credit card, if and when operational, will remain economically and practically unavailable for many of the non-commercial plaintiffs in these actions. The Government's expert "suspect[ed]" that verification agencies would decline to process a card unless it accompanied a commercial transaction. There was no evidence to the contrary. [Back to Table of Contents].

 99. There was evidence that the fee charged by verification agencies to process a card, whether for a purchase or not, will preclude use of the credit-card verification defense by many non-profit, non- commercial Web sites, and there was no evidence to the contrary. Plaintiffs' witness Patricia Nell Warren, an author whose free Web site allows users to purchase gay and lesbian literature, testified that she must pay $1 per verification to a verification agency. Her Web site can absorb this cost because it arises in connection with the sale of books available there. [Back to Table of Contents].

 100. Using credit card possession as a surrogate for age, and requiring use of a credit card to enter a site, would impose a significant economic cost on non-commercial entities. Critical Path, for example, received 3,300 hits daily from February 4 through March 4, 1996. If Critical Path must pay a fee every time a user initially enters its site, then, to provide free access to its non-commercial site, it would incur a monthly cost far beyond its modest resources. The ACLU's Barry Steinhardt testified that maintenance of a credit card verification system for all visitors to the ACLU's Web site would require it to shut down its Web site because the projected cost would exceed its budget. [Back to Table of Contents].

 101. Credit card verification would significantly delay the retrieval of information on the Internet. Dr. Olsen, the expert testifying for the Government, agreed that even "a minute is [an] absolutely unreasonable [delay] . . . [P]eople will not put up with a minute." Plaintiffs' expert Donna Hoffman similarly testified that excessive delay disrupts the "flow" on the Internet and stifles both "hedonistic" and "goal-directed" browsing. [Back to Table of Contents].

 102. Imposition of a credit card requirement would completely bar adults who do not have a credit card and lack the resources to obtain one from accessing any blocked material. At this time, credit card verification is effectively unavailable to a substantial number of Internet content providers as a potential defense to the CDA.

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Adult Verification by Password

103. The Government offered very limited evidence regarding the operation of existing age verification systems, and the evidence offered was not based on personal knowledge. AdultCheck and Verify, existing systems which appear to be used for accessing commercial pornographic sites, charge users for their services. Dr. Olsen admitted that his knowledge of these services was derived primarily from reading the advertisements on their Web pages. He had not interviewed any employees of these entities, had not personally used these systems, had no idea how many people are registered with them, and could not testify to the reliability of their attempt at age verification. [Back to Table of Contents].

 104. At least some, if not almost all, non-commercial organizations, such as the ACLU, Stop Prisoner Rape or Critical Path AIDS Project, regard charging listeners to access their speech as contrary to their goals of making their materials available to a wide audience free of charge. [Back to Table of Contents].

 105. It would not be feasible for many non-commercial organizations to design their own adult access code screening systems because the administrative burden of creating and maintaining a screening system and the ongoing costs involved is beyond their reach. There was testimony that the costs would be prohibitive even for a commercial entity such as HotWired, the on-line version of Wired magazine. [Back to Table of Contents].

 106. There is evidence suggesting that adult users, particularly casual Web browsers, would be discouraged from retrieving information that required use of a credit card or password. Andrew Anker testified that HotWired has received many complaints from its members about HotWired's registration system, which requires only that a member supply a name, e-mail address and self-created password. There is concern by commercial content providers that age verification requirements would decrease advertising and revenue because advertisers depend on a demonstration that the sites are widely available and frequently visited. [Back to Table of Contents].

 107. Even if credit card verification or adult password verification were implemented, the Government presented no testimony as to how such systems could ensure that the user of the password or credit card is in fact over 18. The burdens imposed by credit card verification and adult password verification systems make them effectively unavailable to a substantial number of Internet content providers.

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The Government's "Tagging" Proposal

108. The feasibility and effectiveness of "tagging" to restrict children from accessing "indecent" speech, as proposed by the Government has not been established. "Tagging" would require content providers to label all of their "indecent" or "patently offensive" material by imbedding a string of characters, such as "XXX," in either the URL or HTML. If a user could install software on his or her computer to recognize the "XXX" tag, the user could screen out any content with that tag. Dr. Olsen proposed a "-L18" tag, an idea he developed for this hearing in response to Mr. Bradner's earlier testimony that certain tagging would not be feasible. [Back to Table of Contents].

 109. The parties appear to agree that it is technologically feasible -- "trivial", in the words of plaintiffs' expert -- to imbed tags in URLs and HTML, and the technology of tagging underlies both plaintiffs' PICS proposal and the Government's "-L18" proposal. [Back to Table of Contents].

 110. The Government's tagging proposal would require all content providers that post arguably "indecent" material to review all of their on-line content, a task that would be extremely burdensome for organizations that provide large amounts of material on-line which cannot afford to pay a large staff to review all of that material. The Carnegie Library would be required to hire numerous additional employees to review its on- line files at an extremely high cost to its limited budget. The cost and effort would be substantial for the Library and frequently prohibitive for others. Witness Kiroshi Kuromiya testified that it would be impossible for his organization, Critical Path, to review all of its material because it has only one full and one part-time employee. [Back to Table of Contents].

 111. The task of screening and tagging cannot be done simply by using software which screens for certain words, as Dr. Olsen acknowledged, and we find that determinations as to what is indecent require human judgment. [Back to Table of Contents].

 112. In lieu of reviewing each file individually, a content provider could tag its entire site but this would prevent minors from accessing much material that is not "indecent" under the CDA. [Back to Table of Contents].

 113. To be effective, a scheme such as the -L18 proposal would require a worldwide consensus among speakers to use the same tag to label "indecent" material. There is currently no such consensus, and no Internet speaker currently labels its speech with the -L18 code or with any other widely- recognized label. [Back to Table of Contents].

 114. Tagging also assumes the existence of software that recognizes the tags and takes appropriate action when it notes tagged speech. Neither commercial Web browsers nor user- based screening software is currently configured to block a -L18 code. Until such software exists, all speech on the Internet will continue to travel to whomever requests it, without hindrance. Labelling speech has no effect in itself on the transmission (or not) of that speech. Neither plaintiffs nor the Government suggest that tagging alone would shield minors from speech or insulate a speaker from criminal liability under the CDA. It follows that all speech on any topic that is available to adults will also be available to children using the Internet (unless it is blocked by screening software running on the computer the child is using). [Back to Table of Contents].

 115. There is no way that a speaker can use current technology to know if a listener is using screening software. [Back to Table of Contents].

 116. Tags can not currently activate or deactivate themselves depending on the age or location of the receiver. [Back to Table of Contents].

 Critical Path, which posts on-line safer sex instructions, would be unable to imbed tags that block its speech only in communities where it may be regarded as indecent. Critical Path, for example, must choose either to tag its site (blocking its speech in all communities) or not to tag, blocking its speech in none.

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The Problems of Offshore Content and Caching

117. A large percentage, perhaps 40% or more, of content on the Internet originates outside the United States. At the hearing, a witness demonstrated how an Internet user could access a Web site of London (which presumably is on a server in England), and then link to other sites of interest in England. A user can sometimes discern from a URL that content is coming from overseas, since InterNIC allows a content provider to imbed a country code in a domain name. [20] Foreign content is otherwise indistinguishable from domestic content (as long as it is in English), since foreign speech is created, named, and posted in the same manner as domestic speech. There is no requirement that foreign speech contain a country code in its URL. It is undisputed that some foreign speech that travels over the Internet is sexually explicit. [Back to Table of Contents].

 118. The use of "caching" makes it difficult to determine whether the material originated from foreign or domestic sources. Because of the high cost of using the trans- Atlantic and trans-Pacific cables, and because the high demand on those cables leads to bottleneck delays, content is often "cached", or temporarily stored, on servers in the United States. Material from a foreign source in Europe can travel over the trans-Atlantic cable to the receiver in the United States, and pass through a domestic caching server which then stores a copy for subsequent retrieval. This domestic caching server, rather than the original foreign server, will send the material from the cache to the subsequent receivers, without placing a demand on the trans-oceanic cables. This shortcut effectively eliminates most of the distance for both the request and the information and, hence, most of the delay. The caching server discards the stored information according to its configuration (e.g., after a certain time or as the demand for the information diminishes). Caching therefore advances core Internet values: the cheap and speedy retrieval of information. [Back to Table of Contents].

 119. Caching is not merely an international phenomenon. Domestic content providers store popular domestic material on their caching servers to avoid the delay of successive searches for the same material and to decrease the demand on their Internet connection. America Online can cache the home page of the New York Times on its servers when a subscriber first requests it, so that subsequent subscribers who make the same request will receive the same home page, but from America Online's caching service rather than from the New York Times's server. [21]. [Back to Table of Contents].

 120. Put simply, to follow the example in the prior paragraph, America Online has no control over the content that the New York Times posts to its Web site, and the New York Times has no control over America Online's distribution of that content from a caching server.

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Anonymity

121. Anonymity is important to Internet users who seek to access sensitive information, such as users of the Critical Path AIDS Project's Web site, the users, particularly gay youth, of Queer Resources Directory, and users of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR). Many members of SPR's mailing list have asked to remain anonymous due to the stigma of prisoner rape.

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Plaintiffs' Choices Under the CDA

122. Many speakers who display arguably indecent content on the Internet must choose between silence and the risk of prosecution. The CDA's defenses -- credit card verification, adult access codes, and adult personal identification numbers -- are effectively unavailable for non-commercial, not-for-profit entities. [Back to Table of Contents].

 123. The plaintiffs in this action are businesses, libraries, non-commercial and not-for-profit organizations, and educational societies and consortia. Although some of the material that plaintiffs post on-line -- such as information regarding protection from AIDS, birth control or prison rape -- is sexually explicit and may be considered "indecent" or "patently offensive" in some communities, none of the plaintiffs is a commercial purveyor of what is commonly termed "pornography."

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The foregoing is an excerpt without footnotes from the full text of the decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania concerning the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in finding it "unconstitutional on its face." The proceedings were held before Sloviter, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Buckwalter and Dalzell, Judges, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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Title: The Meek Family Website - This page describes in language for the general reader the Internet and all of its components, including networks (independent and self-maintaining), Internet access methods, E-mail, Mailing Lists, USENET Newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, Telnet, File Transfer Protocol, Gopher and the World-Wide Web.
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Page last updated: 30 March 2012 (N4.8, w/SC). Page created: 12 June 1996.