New Massachusetts law extends censorship to IM, e-mail, Web

By Nate Anderson.

It has long been illegal in Massachusetts to provide minors with "matter harmful to minors" under the state’s "Crimes against chastity, morality, decency, and good order" law. The law targets obscenity, but only its physical forms, which makes it easier to enforce. When little Johnny steps inside the adult video store, clerks can check his ID before selling him that DVD of industrial sexuality. And anyone trying show hardcore porn to a 13-year old knows exactly what they’re doing, and who they’re doing it to.

In April, this "harmful to minors" law received a brief update—not more than a couple of paragraphs—but they had profound implications for free expression. The new law extended "harmful to minors" to the Internet. In addition to smutty books, films, pamphlets, pictures, plays, dances, and statues (!), Massachusetts decided that the "matter" which might harm minors should now include:

electronic mail, instant messages, text messages, and any other communication created by means of use of the Internet or wireless network, whether by computer, telephone, or any other device or by any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo-electronic or photo-optical system.

The law went into effect yesterday, and today it was challenged in court by the ACLU, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and several booksellers. By going digital, the expanded law suddenly moves away from the shop counter and onto the ‘Net, where it "threatens Internet communications nationwide and even worldwide." … Read More>>

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