In what might be described as a turning point for individual rights in the United States, two legal issues came down in June 2005 that will impact private homeowners and Internet surfers.
On 23 June the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that both state and local (cities) municipalities may take private land from the land owner and give it to a developer if the developer plans to promote economic development. There is perhaps nowhere in the United States where this new ruling will impact property owners more than in landlocked New York City.
However, the original case was brought against New London, CT, when 15 property owners contended that the city's reasons to take their property under existing eminent domain laws were unconstitutional. The court disagreed.
Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer agreed that economic development is a function of government and there is no need to second-guess a city's reasons for taking private homes.
Justices O'Conner, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas disagreed and said the fallout from allowing the seizure of private property for the benefit of another has extensive fallout, and that large corporations and property development firms will create more victims than economic resources.
"Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner so long as it might be upgraded," wrote Justice O'Conner.
The measure is dangerous, said Justice Thomas in a rare statement for the openly conservative judge. Such "urban renewal projects have long been associated with the displacement of blacks."
Legal academics and briefs told to the press following the ruling cautioned against panic. While the ruling does not mean local authorities will suddenly grab-up private property at random... the ruling itself does set a legal precedent should property owner and city officials end up in court at some future point. The property owner no longer has the right to sue.
While not directly related to property ownership, the Department of Justice closed down several prominent websites on 22 June saying that due to "adult" material on those websites the owners were in violation of ant-child pornography rules.
However, Federal District Court Judge Walker Miller affirmed an agreement between the Department of Justice that plaintiffs would be allow temporary reprieve, blocking the enforcement of rules until 7 September. At that time all websites hosted within the United States must either shut down, cut back services, or change their business plans to accommodate the ruling. Any photograph considered "sexual" by the Department of Justice standards is subject to the new rules no matter from where it came, or for what purpose the photograph serves.
According to the regulations, website operators must maintain copies of the government-issued identification (Social Security IDs etc.,) of every individual with a photo that could be considered "sexually explicit."
And... the rules are retroactive to June 1995. Meaning: If you posted a skin picture of yourself in August 1995 or 1996 or 2001... you'd better have your identification number, home address, and telephone number posted with the photograph or you face "automatic" prison time.
Failure to comply equals a 5-year prison term on first offense. Second offense earns you 10 years in prison, add another 10 years for each additional offense.
The Department of Justice requires no warrants for search, and all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are --by law-- required to give IP addresses, your computer identification, and your personal contact information to the federal government upon request.
"Essentially, your ability to exchange material that could potentially be considered sexually explicit by the Department of Justice would be crippled, and along with it, your rights to privacy and free speech," writes Beth Callaghan, editor in chief of PlanetOut Inc., which is the parent company of gay.com a website pulled down for several hours pending Walker Miller's extension.
While PlanetOut agreed and supports rules ending child pornography online, it contends the ruling is selective and "with such a widespread movement against the so-called 'homosexual agenda' by religious groups," the ruling is "a convenient tool" to go after rights of lesbians and gays Callaghan wrote in a statement.
Yahoo! Inc., says it quickly closed personal chat rooms during the week as well; although Yahoo! says the reasons were that advertisers wanted "cleaner" chat rooms for their product listings. Yahoo! the Internet's largest portal has not commented on the Department of Justice rulings.
---This content is copyrighted by Think & Ask, reproduction of any kind is not permitted without written consent.---