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currently in force is the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 (CIPA), which requires public
libraries that receive certain federal government subsidies to install filtering software that prevents
users from accessing child pornography or visual depictions that are obscene or harmful to minors.
Libraries that do not receive the specified subsidies from the federal government are not obliged to
comply with CIPA, but following the economic downturn, more public libraries have begun to
seek federal aid in order to mitigate budget shortfalls.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s
interpretation of the law, adult users can request that the filtering be removed without having to
provide a justification. However, not all libraries allow this option, arguing that the decisions about
the use of filters should be left to the discretion of individual libraries.
In addition to restricting access to universally illegal content such as child pornography, the
government has in recent years started more aggressively pursuing alleged infringements of
intellectual property rights on the internet. Since 2010, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has engaged in several rounds of domain-
name seizures, with targets including blogs and file-sharing sites that allegedly link to illegal copies
of music and films and sites that sell counterfeit goods.
These seizures have been criticized as
extreme and overly secretive; for example, ICE seized the domain name of a legitimate hip-hop
music site in November of 2010 and refused to return it for an entire year. The decision to
withhold the domain was based on sealed court proceedings to which the owners of the domain
were not allowed access.
In August 2012, three members of Congress wrote a letter to the U.S.
Attorney General raising concerns about whether ICE procedures give websites meaningful due
However, ICE continues to pursue the project, which is known as “Operation in Our
Sights.” In January 2013, ICE launched a new “Operation in Our Sights” initiative called “Operation
Red Zone,” seizing 313 websites allegedly selling counterfeit goods that violate National Football
League (NFL) copyrights.
In 2011, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), both of which
sought to target websites outside of the United States that host material allegedly infringing on U.S.
copyrights, were introduced with bipartisan support in the Senate and House of Representatives,
respectively. These bills would have permitted the Attorney General, with little judicial review, to
“Public Library Funding & Technology Access Landscape 2011‐2012: Public Library Funding Landscape,” American Library
Association, p 15, accessed August 6, 2013,
Bob Bocher, “Children’s Internet Protection Act, CIPA: A Brief FAQ on Public Library Compliance,” Wisconsin Department of
Public Instruction, February 2004, updated March 11, 2010, http://dpi.state.wi.us/pld/cipafaqlite.html. See, e.g., Bradburn v.
North Central Regional Library District (Washington state Supreme Court) No. 82200‐0 (May 6, 2010); Bradburn v. NCLR, No.
CV‐06‐327‐EFS (E.D. Wash. April 10, 2013).
Corynne McSherry, “U.S. Government Seizes 82 Websites: A Glimpse at the Draconian Future of Copyright Enforcement?”
Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 29, 2010, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/11/us‐government‐seizes‐82‐
Trevor Timm, “Blacklist Bills Ripe for Abuse Part II: Expansion of Government Powers,” Deeplinks Blog, Electronic Frontier
Foundation, December 9, 2011, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2011/12/blacklist‐bills‐ripe‐abuse‐part‐ii‐expansion‐
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Jared Polis, Letter to Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano regarding
ICE domain seizures, August 30, 2012, http://lofgren.house.gov/images/Letter_to_AG_Holder_083012.pdf.
“ICE, CBP, USPIS seize more than $13.6 million in fake NFL merchandise during 'Operation Red Zone'
313 websites seized and 23 individuals arrested nationwide for selling counterfeit NFL merchandise,” United States Immigration
and Customs Enforcement News Release, January 31, 2013, http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1301/130131neworleans.htm.
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seek orders directing ISPs to block access to domain names of sites allegedly dedicated to infringing
activity, even if sites also contained lawful content.
The bills, if passed, would have suppressed legitimate, unquestionably legal speech and posed a
threat to the infrastructure of the internet. In recognition of these concerns, technologists, digital
rights advocates, companies such as Google and Mozilla, and the internet community at large
voiced resounding opposition to the bills. Some estimates of user involvement in this effort include
over 10 million signatures to petitions, four million e-mails to legislators, and 115,000 sites
blacking out or going dim in protest.
In response to these efforts and internal concerns, members
of Congress withdrew the bills from consideration. The bills remained shelved as of mid-2013.
The activities of WikiLeaks, which in 2010 published several tranches of U.S. government material
that was leaked by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, triggered a serious debate
about the use of the internet to publicize sensitive or classified government
WikiLeaks faced the cut-off of service by non-government entities, including
Amazon’s data storage service
and EveryDNS, Wikileaks’ domain name service provider.
these and other companies that severed ties with WikiLeaks claimed to be acting independently and
without government influence, their decisions came amid fierce public criticism of WikiLeaks by
executive branch officials and prominent members of Congress.
Bradley Manning pleaded guilty
to some charges, was convicted of others and received a lengthy sentence. A federal grand jury
investigation of Wikileaks is ongoing, but as of mid-2013, the U.S. government had not filed
charges against WikiLeaks or any of the press outlets that republished the documents.
The legality of online gambling is another topic of debate in the United States. Online gambling is
governed by a patchwork of laws that have continued to shift over the last year. Currently, 37
states allow betting on games that require some degree of skill, but under U.S. law, certain popular
online card games like poker and blackjack are not generally included under the “games of skill”
In 2011, the Justice Department delivered a legal opinion clarifying the scope of the
Wire Act of 1961 and opening the door for states to legalize many additional forms of gambling,
Fight for the Future, http://sopastrike.com/numbers/.
This information included video footage of a 2007 incident in which journalists and Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. forces,
documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department, and reports on prisoners
held in Guantanamo Bay military prison, all of which number in the tens and (in the case of the Iraq war) hundreds of
Geoffrey A. Fowler, “Amazon Says WikiLeaks Violated Terms of Service,” Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2010,
Kevin Poulsen, “WikiLeaks Attacks Reveal Surprising, Avoidable Vulnerabilities,” Wired, December 3, 2010,
Ewen MacAskill, “WikiLeaks Website Pulled by Amazon After US Political Pressure,” Guardian, December 2, 2010,
Charlie Savage, “Soldier Admits Providing Files to WikiLeaks,” The New York Times, February 28, 2013,
wikileaks.html?pagewanted=all; Scott Shane, “Solider to Face More Serious Charges in Leak,” The New York Times, March 1,
Julianne Pepitone, “Online Gambling Toes a Confusing Legal Line,” CNN Money, June 10, 2013,
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including online poker and other “games of chance.”
Following the opinion, Nevada, New Jersey,
and Delaware legalized online gambling within their borders. Other states are considering similar
The first legal online poker website opened for business in June 2013, although the
site is technically only legal for residents of Nevada.
The internet plays a significant role in civic activism in the United States, and the growth of the
blogosphere and citizen journalism has changed the ways in which many people receive news. Blogs
and electronic media outlets reporting from various points on the political spectrum now have
greater readership than most printed periodicals. Nearly all nongovernmental organizations and
causes have a presence on the internet and use it for advocacy and social mobilization. E-mail
campaigns, online petitions, and YouTube videos have been instrumental in organizing protests,
lobbying government bodies, and putting a spotlight on issues ranging from environmental
degradation to hate crimes.
Political activity is increasingly moving online. According to a survey by the Pew Center’s Internet
and American Life Project, 66 percent of social media users have engaged in some form of political
or civic activity using these tools. This represents nearly 40 percent of the adult American
population. More than one third of social media users have used the tools to encourage others to
In the 2012 presidential campaign, contributors increasingly turned to technology when
donating money to candidates. Approximately half of the people who donated to a presidential
candidate made at least one contribution online or via e-mail. One in ten donors made a
contribution via text message or mobile phone app.
In addition, politicians at the local, state, and
federal level increasingly use e-mail, mobile apps, and online content to garner support and keep
their constituents engaged.
The United States has a robust legal framework that supports free expression rights both online and
offline, and the U.S. does not typically prosecute individuals for online speech. The broader picture
of user rights in America, however, has become increasingly complex as a series of U.S.
United States Department of Justice, Memorandum “Opinion for the Assistant Attorney General: Whether Proposals by
Illinois and New York to Use the Internet and Out‐of‐State Transaction Processors to Sell Lottery Tickets to In‐State Adults
Violate the Wire Act,” September 20, 2011, http://www.justice.gov/olc/2011/state‐lotteries‐opinion.pdf.
Deena Beasley and Nichola Groom, “Analysis: U.S. States Race to Capture Online Gaming Bonanza,” Reuters, February 28,
Cyrus Farivar, “Ultimate Poker to Become First Legal, Real‐Money Online Poker Site in the U.S.,” Ars Technica, April 30, 2013,
See for example the Credo “Stop the Tar Sands Pipeline” petition at
http://www.credoaction.com/campaign/keystone_obama/index2.html. See also: Steve Williams, “President Obama Signs Hate
Crimes Bill—Thank You to the 25,000 Care2 Members That Helped It Reach His Desk!” Care2, October 28, 2009,
Lee Rainey, Aaron Smith, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Sydney Verba, “Social Media and Political Engagement,”
Pew Internet and American Life Project, October 19, 2012,
Aaron Smith & Maeve Duggan, “Presidential Campaign Donations in the Digital Age,” Pew Internet and American Life Project,
October 25, 2012, http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_State_of_the_2012_race_donations.pdf.
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government practices, policies, and laws touch on, and in some cases appear to violate, the rights of
individuals both inside the U.S. and abroad. Government access to phone and internet records is a
major concern, especially following newly revealed information about NSA surveillance practices.
Aggressive prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) has also been criticized.
In addition, the privacy of NGOs, companies, and individual users is threatened by a growing
number of cyberattacks initiated by both domestic and international actors.
The U.S. Constitution includes strong protections for free speech and freedom of the press. In
1997, the U.S. Supreme Court held that internet speech was entitled to the highest form of
protection under the Constitution, and lower courts have consistently struck down attempts to
regulate online content. Two federal laws also provide significant protections for online speech:
Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (as amended by the Telecommunications Act of
1996) provides immunity for ISPs and online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook that carry
content created by third parties. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 provides
a safe harbor to intermediaries that take down allegedly infringing material after notice from the
copyright owner. These statutes enable companies to develop internet applications and websites
without fear that they will be held liable for content posted by users.
The U.S. government generally does not prosecute individuals for posting information on the
internet, with the notable exceptions of child pornography and content that infringes on copyright.
As of mid-2013, the government had taken no decisive action against either WikiLeaks or site
founder Julian Assange, but this may change in the wake of the Bradley Manning trial. Manning’s
own statements or other testimony may help prosecutors establish whether WikiLeaks played a
conspiratorial role in the unauthorized downloading of classified documents from U.S. military
computers or in the subsequent transmission of the material to WikiLeaks.
In 2012, federal authorities issued a subpoena to the microblogging service Twitter, requesting
information from the Twitter accounts of Manning, Assange, and others associated with WikiLeaks.
With the subpoena came a gag order compelling Twitter not to disclose this information to anyone,
including the users in question. Twitter attorneys successfully challenged the gag order in court and
were able to notify users before disclosing their information to government officials.
case arose in May 2012 when New York City’s district attorney issued a subpoena to Twitter,
requesting tweets and account information of an Occupy Wall Street protester. Twitter asked a
state judge to throw out the request, arguing that the protester merited protection under the
Fourth Amendment, given that prosecutors had failed to show probable cause necessary to obtain a
warrant for the information.
Twitter’s efforts in court were unsuccessful, and in September 2012
“Intermediary Liability: Protecting Internet Platforms for Expression and Innovation,” Center for Democracy and Technology,
April 2010, http://www.cdt.org/files/pdfs/CDT‐Intermediary%20Liability_%282010%29.pdf.
Scott Shane, “Solider to Face More Serious Charges in Leak,” The New York Times, March 1, 2013,
Ryan Singel, “Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard,” Wired, January 10, 2011,
Dan Goodin, “Twitter fights government subpoena demanding Occupy Wall Street protester info,” Ars Technica, May 5, 2012,
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested