6.805 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Ethics and the Law on the Electronic Frontier


Assignment 3

Assignments: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11


Last week, we talked about the government’s attempts to regulate indecent content at the source, by enacting the Communications Decency Act of 1996. We learned that Congress does not have the power to ban this material outright, or even to make it generally illegal to provide to minors over the Internet. But can the government provide only “filtered” access to the Internet? Can the government use its spending power to ensure that minors’ access will be filtered?

We will have a “moot court” in class on Thursday, tied in to the rotisserie assignment.

Before Class

Preparation for Rotisserie Assignment

In the period after Reno vs. ACLU was decided, governments struggled to balance the First Amendment rights of speakers against their desire to protect minors from pornography. One of the ways they tried to regulate was through the use of filters – one of the less-restrictive means suggested by the Reno court.

  • Read the Supreme Court’s decision in United States vs. American Library Ass’n, 539 U.S. 194 (2003). Here, the ALA challenged a federal law that withheld funding from libraries that did not filter their Internet access.
  • Skim the Supreme Court’s decision in United States vs. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U.S. 803 (2000).
  • Read the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft vs. ACLU, 542 U.S. 656 (2004).
  • How to find the Cases: Use MIT’s access to Lexis-Nexis Universe. On the front page, there is a box titled “Citation”. Enter “539 U.S. 194” (for American Library Ass’n), “529 U.S. 803” (for Playboy Entertainment), or “542 U.S. 656” (for Ashcroft vs. ACLU).

This is how attorneys refer precisely to particular decisions. You will see these citations scattered about all kinds of legal writing. Be adventerous! If a previous case looks interesting, put its citation into Lexis and read what you get back.

Note: Lexis includes little snippets of the case, known as the “headnotes,” at the top of each listing. It’s okay to skip these until you get to the “syllabus” or the majority opinion. But they can also be a useful guide to what the Lexis editors think are the most important parts of the decision.

Be sure to do the rotisserie assignment, due 2 days before the next lecture. You will be assigned to teams in the “moot court” at the lecture session based on the content of your brief.