Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides about the Communications Decency Act, it won't put to rest the wrangling over the ingredients that make up the Internet.
Just as, to this day, public library officials debate how (and whether) to stock books with sexually explicit or violent themes, parents, Internet service providers and Web site authors are in the midst of an argument over Internet standards, which is historically unparalleled in its scope.
The anti-CDA argument, to be summed up by the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of companion groups before the high court Wednesday, goes like this:
If a U.S. child can check out from the library a book of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook or a chronicle of Hitler's racist manifestos, then what right does the government have to censor that same material from appearing online to an audience containing minors--effectively keeping it from the eyes of adults as well?
But CDA proponents, including legislators such as former Neb. Sen. Jim Exon and nonprofit groups-including the National Law Center for Children and Families, the Family Research Council, and Morality in Media-argue that children deserve special protections in cyberspace as well as the real world, asking if a convenience store clerk can't legally sell a copy of Hustler to an 8-year-old, why should the same child have easy access to similar material on the Internet?
After hearing arguments Wednesday, the Supreme Court s expected to rule on the case by summertime. It will be the latest major development in a turbulent period of change for the Internet, but not the final word.