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  NewsCenter > NewsWire > For Immediate Release     

 

     
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 22, 1998
2:40 PM
CONTACT:  American Civil Liberties Union

Trial Begins Today in ACLU Challenge To New Mexico Internet Censorship Law
 
ALBUQUERQUE -- June 22 - In a courtroom hearing opening today on a challenge to a state Internet censorship law, a group of Internet users including an artist, a gynecologist and a librarian will testify that their speech will be chilled by the threat of criminal prosecution if the law goes into effect on July 1.

Saying that the law would reduce all speech on the Internet to a level suitable for a six-year-old, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico filed suit in April 1998 on behalf of 20 Internet users in New Mexico and around the country.

The law, signed by Gov. Gary Johnson on March 9, makes it a crime to disseminate online expression that involves "nudity" or "sexual conduct." Penalties include up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.

At the 9:00 a.m. start of today's trial, United States District Judge C. LeRoy Hansen of the Federal District Court of New Mexico in Albuquerque is scheduled to hear the government's motions to dismiss the ACLU's challenge.

If the government's motion is denied, the case will go forward and a hearing will begin on the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction to stop the law taking effect. The ACLU plans to present the live testimony of an expert witness and four individuals who fear prosecution under the law. The ACLU has also submitted nine affidavits and 72 examples of words and images that would be censored under the law.

"The ACLU is prepared to prove, as we have in every other court that has ruled on cyber-censorship laws, that the First Amendment does not allow the government to pull the plug on Internet free speech," said Ann Beeson, an ACLU National Staff Attorney and member of the legal team appearing in court on Monday.

Beeson noted that the government will not be presenting any witnesses or experts to support its case in court. The government has submitted a single affidavit arguing for a narrow interpretation of the law as well some examples of ACLU client websites.

In addition, she said, the government had agreed not to argue a set of 50 separate facts about the Internet established in the ACLU's successful Supreme Court challenge a nearly identical federal Internet censorship law.

The ACLU witnesses are:

Rebecca Alzofon, a San Francisco artist who teaches life drawing online.

Carol Brey, Director, Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces.

Dr. Douglas Krell, a Santa-Fe based obstetrician/gynecologist.

Prof. Michael Norwood, Dir. of Computer & Technology Services at the Univ. of New Mexico.

Barry Steinhardt, President, Electronic Frontier Foundation, based in San Francisco.

Prof. Norwood is testifying as an expert witness; the other four individuals represent the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.

Dr. Douglas Krell, the New Mexico representative of OBGYN.net, plans to testify that he does not want to censor valuable speech about women's health available at OBGYN.net website. The site is an online resource on women's health issues, that often includes explicit discussions of sexual conduct and the female body.

Rebecca Alzofon, representing Art on the Net, a free online art gallery, uses nudity in her art work and in the life drawing classes she teaches online. She plans to testify that she fears prosecution because the law applies to all depictions of nudity or sexual conduct, including artwork that she considers socially valuable for adults and minors alike.

Beeson said that the ACLU did not plan to present a courtroom demonstration of the Internet because Judge Hansen is known to be cyber-savvy. New Mexico's district court became is the only federal court in the nation that allows attorneys to file documents by e-mail.

In fact, Beeson said, under the New Mexico law, the ACLU could be prosecuted for sending its court papers in this case via the Internet to Judge Hansen.

"It is sad that the state of New Mexico is now reduced to spending taxpayer dollars to defend an indefensible law," said Jennie Lusk, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico. "The ACLU is bringing this lawsuit to preserve New Mexico's tradition of free expression and appreciation for the arts and humanities."

If the case is dismissed on Monday, the ACLU is prepared to appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 20 plaintiffs in the case are: ACLU, Mark Amerika of Alt-X, Art on the Net, Feminist.com, Full Circle Books, OBGYN.net, Santa Fe Online, Sexual Health Institute, Stop Prisoner Rape, Jeff Walsh of Oasis Magazine, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Freedom to Read Foundation Inc., International Periodical Distributors Association, New Mexico Library Association, Pen American Center, Periodical and Book Association of America, Publishers Marketing Association, and Recording Industry Association of America.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are ACLU attorney Ann Beeson, Senior ACLU Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, who will also argue the case in court, ACLU-New Mexico Co-Legal Director Philip B. Davis, and Michael Bamberger of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in New York. Attorney Cassidy Sehgal, an ACLU William F. Brennan First Amendment fellow, also assisted in the case.

More information about ACLU v. Johnson can be found at:

ACLU's complaint at:
http://www.aclu.org/court/acluvjohnson_complaint.html

Links to plaintiff web sites at:
http://www.aclu.org/issues/cyber/censor/newmexico.html#plaintiff

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