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NYCLU Calls On City Council To Reject Cyber Cafe Bill

The New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to all 51 members of New York’s City Council urging them to reject proposed legislation that would severely restrict minors’ access to Internet or cyber cafes. The proposed legislation, Intro 78, would bar minors from entering a cyber café during school hours unless they could demonstrate that they were out of school with permission. The NYCLU objects that the bill would do little to achieve its purported goal of protecting public safety or preventing violence.

“This bill would make all minors suspects and place an unfair burden on young people from exercising their First Amendment rights—particularly if they otherwise have no access to a computer,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU.

Intro.78 also carries steep penalties of up to $300 per violation for owners of Internet cafes who permit a truant student to enter their business during school hours. Proprietors would have to demand that a minor demonstrate that he or she has permission to be out of school or has a diploma or GED certificate. The NYCLU wrote Council members that these proposed constraints impose unacceptable burdens on cyber café owners and young people.

Said Robert Perry, NYCLU Legislative Director: “The bill would give the city a heavy hand in the day-to-day operation of an Internet café. It would charge the proprietors of such establishments with screening out and turning away potential truants. The proprietor facing steep fines will likely err on the side of excluding all youths.”

Many young people throughout the city do not own a computer. For them an Internet café represents a vital link to the world of Internet communication. The bill would restrict access to Internet cafes without taking into account that the students who are turned away may be precisely those who have no other access to a computer and its communication capabilities.

The NYCLU believes the government’s interest in preventing violence does not justify the proposed regulations. If public safety or youth violence is the concern, why is the bill framed as an anti-truancy measure? If truancy is the problem, then procedures for identifying and monitoring truants need to be addressed.

The NYCLU believes the proposed legislation would impermissibly restrict a young person’s right to engage freely in speech via the Internet and urges each Council member to vote in opposition to Intro. 78.

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