Internet freedom fighters battle to break 'censorship'

New York - Much of the Internet's World Wide Web was blacked out and decorated with symbolic blue ribbons for two days over the weekend in a civil-liberties protest against a new US law banning "indecent" material from cyberspace.

The protest started on Thursday after President Bill Clinton signed into law a telecommunications bill containing provisions making it a crime to make available to minors "indecent" material on the worldwide Internet computer network. Violations can draw a maximum sentence of a $250,000 (pounds 163,000) fine and two years in prison.

The campaign on the Web - the point-and-click section of the Internet enlivened by pictures, video and sound - was mounted by Internet-oriented companies such as Netscape Communications, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other civil-libertarian groups and individuals.

An EFF Web page featured a list of materials on the Web that some might consider indecent, including a picture of the Louvre's Venus de Milo, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Supreme Court's Roe vs Wade decision legalising abortion and lyrics from songs by Smashing Pumpkins and other rock groups.

Many Web pages were decorated with a bright looped blue ribbon, similar to the red ribbons used to demonstrate solidarity with Aids sufferers.

"Congress has prepared to turn the Internet from one of the greatest resources of cultural, social and scientific information into the on-line equivalent of the children's reading room." the EFF said.

Proponents of the law - including its chief sponsor, Democratic Senator James Exon of Nebraska - say the law is necessary to protect children from hard-core pornography readily available on the Internet.

But civil libertarians, privacy activists and Internet supporters, who lobbied intensely but unsuccessfully to stop the bill from becoming law, argue that it amounts to censorship. Many say that parents, not government, should control what their children see and hear on the Internet.

Opponents also maintain that enforcing the law will prove impractical since the Internet is a network of computers worldwide and outside the control of any one county.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the US government to block the act and two senators introduced a bill on Friday to repeal it.

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