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Senate Reinforces Obscenity Laws

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Dec 2, 2003 12:00 AM PST    Text size: 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A battle cry against porn was answered by the United States Senate recently in the form of a resolution to step-up enforcement of national obscenity laws.

The resolution comes on the heels of mounting criticism from anti-porn advocates and family groups that claim the Bush Administration has been too lax in its fight against the amount of porn circulating through the Internet and the mainstream media.

Much of the criticism has been directed at Attorney General John Ashcroft who entered his term on a pledge to take an aggressive stand against porn by using federal obscenity laws as a weapon against the multi-billion dollar porn industry.

But so far Ashcroft has targeted only small porn distributors of "radical" content and anti-porn advocates say he has done little to stem the tidal wave of the Internet pornography industry.

The obscenity resolution was introduced in the senate by Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions and Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith as a call to action for the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. attorneys to be more vigilant in prosecuting pornography violators.

The senate's obscenity enforcement resolution was passed last week, reportedly by unanimous vote, and signals the government's interest in reinforcing obscenity laws, which many critics feel were put out to pasture during the Clinton administration.

Hopes have been high during the Bush Administration, especially with the appointment of Ashcroft, that the crackdown against porn would be invigorated.

But Ashcroft's enforcement of obscenity laws has been a complex and expensive battle, with the underlying fact that the distribution of pornographic content over the Internet is fundamentally protected by the First Amendment, assuming that it does not fall under federally established terms for what is "obscene or illegal."

The 1973 landmark case of Miller v. California set forth the terms of what "obscenity" means and is broadly interpreted as something that the average person would find appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Concerned Women for America (CWA), a public policy group that supports the resolution, claims that U.S. attorneys across the country have ignored more than 22,000 complaints of obscenity since June of this past year. The majority of those complaints originated from the Internet and CWA has been a vocal naysayer of Ashcroft's enforcement record to date.

This past year, Ashcroft has only feathered his cap with a few high profile cases, including the indictment of Extreme Associates, and a former Dallas police officer and his wife who were convicted for the distribution of hard core videos over the Internet.

According to reports, only 20 convictions have been secured by the Federal Government since 2001, and while dozens are still pending, the process of convicting pornographers has proven to be a far more daunting task than expected.

In the meantime, resolution or not, Ashcroft and his team of prosecutors face an uphill battle.

Recent statistics from N2H2 state that there are more than 260 million porn web pages currently online, and that number is growing by the day. N2H2 tracked 14 million web pages in 1998, and recent growth suggests and 1800 percent growth spurt over the past five years.

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