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Cyber Cafe Bill Becomes Law; May Lead To A Legal Challenge, NYCLU Says

The New York Civil Liberties Union today expressed deep disappointment that two City Council bills that would regulate access to and the location of so-called gaming cafes have become law. The legislation defines gaming cafes to include Internet cafes, or cybercafés, which offer high-speed Internet access for a fee. The NYCLU previously had stated opposition to these laws because they unduly restrict protected First Amendment activity, and today warned that they may face a legal challenge in court.

The bill known as Intro.78-A would prohibit individuals under age 18 from entering or remaining in a gaming café between the hours of 9am and 3pm on weekdays when public schools are in session. The second bill, Intro. 65-A, would prohibit the operation of gaming cafés within 200 feet of a public or private elementary or secondary school. The rationale of lawmakers who introduced the legislation is it is needed to cut down on truancy and to address “dangerous activity,” even though findings that accompany the bills acknowledge there is little if any violence that occurs in proximity to these establishments.

“A cyber café is a First Amendment forum—a portal to the Internet where there is a free exchange of information and ideas,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “This legislation excludes young people from Internet cafes for much of the day, some of whom have no other means of accessing a computer.”

While the actual intent of these laws is to ameliorate the problem of truancy, it is the position of the NYCLU that these laws undermine the right to free speech. “The new law would not return truants to school and it would not result in the identification of truants to schools or to parents,” said Robert Perry, Legislative Director of the NYCLU. “It makes little sense to impose on café owners a responsibility that is more appropriately a duty of schools and parents.”

The law’s restriction on the location of these cafes would force out of business a First Amendment forum based upon an arbitrary geographical calculation. The NYCLU believes the interest of free speech has been left out of the formulation of the 200-feet rule that would prevent gaming cafes from operating around schools. Given these restrictions, the NYCLU warns that both laws may be subject to a legal challenge.

The NYCLU’s first letter in opposition to cyber café restrictions, May 9, 2005.

Second letter in opposition to cyber café restrictions, May 24, 2005.

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