A Legal Victory for Programmers

10 April 2000
A landmark decision, reached April 4, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, held that the First Amendment protects documents written in computer languages. The decision, Junger v. Daley, follows four years of litigation of a case filed in August 1996 by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Professor of Law Peter Junger.

Junger's case originates from a class he taught on computers and the law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Part of Junger's instruction covered the use of computers and encryption. The National Security Agency (NSA) suggested in 1996 that Junger was violating federal law by exposing foreign students to a primitive encryption program as part of a class project.

In response, Junger brought the suit to federal court, claiming that the First Amendment protected his right to academic freedom, and to publish on the Internet portions of a textbook he had written on computers and the law. A U.S. district court ruled against Junger in July 1998, but the court of appeals overturned the decision.

"For the first time, a federal appellate court has decided that computer programming languages are entitled to the protections of the First Amendment," said ACLU legal director Raymond Vasvari, who represented Junger. "This extends to a new medium of expression the sort of protection which music, poetry, scientific articles and other forms of technical expression have always enjoyed."

He concluded, "This is a great day for programmers, computers scientists and all Americans who believe that privacy and intellectual freedom should be free from governmental control."