U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s understanding of how First Amendment free speech rights apply online has come into question after various sources have posted his call for “regulation” of Internet content.
In the wake of 1999’s school shooting massacre in Columbine, Colo., Holder told CBS that the court system ought to look at regulating Internet speech, since the two boys who executed the massacre learned how to build bombs online.
His comments were reported on the May 28, 1999, edition of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition:
“The court has really struck down every government effort to try to regulate it,” Holder said regarding Internet content. “We tried with regard to pornography. It is going to be a difficult thing, but it seems to me that if we can come up with reasonable restrictions, reasonable regulations in how people interact on the Internet, that is something that the Supreme Court and the courts ought to favorably look at.”
Holder has a history from the late ’90s of advocating government policing of Internet content, particularly in the areas of pornography and obscenity.
In 1998, while serving as deputy attorney general under President Clinton, Holder issued a memo to U.S. attorneys calling for prosecution of online obscenity.
“Because of the nature of the Internet and availability of agents trained in conducting criminal investigations in cyberspace,” Holder wrote, “investigation and prosecution of Internet obscenity is particularly suitable to federal resources.”
According to a Time report, Holder’s memo emphasized that no website was too insignificant to investigate.
“Prosecution of cases involving relatively small distributors,” Holder wrote, “can have a deterrent effect.”