Judge: Child Online Protection Act unconstitutional

Law would have penalized websites for allowing kids to see sexual material, but judge finds it impinges on free speech, privacy rights.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
A federal judge in Philadelphia invalidated the Child Online Protection Act, which makes it a crime for websites to allow anyone under 17 to access sexual material, saying that the government failed to show that filters are ineffective and that the law infringes on free speech, The Washington Post reports.
"Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection," Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed said in issuing the permanent injunction, noting his "personal regret" at having to reject an attempt to protect children from harmful material.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the suit on behalf of website owners. ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said: "The courts have ruled, once again, that speech on the Internet is protected."

"Had the decision gone the other way," ACLU staff attorney Chris Hansen said, "the Web would have had to dumb down. It would have made the entire Web homogeneous and bland so that a 6-year-old could read everything on the Web without anyone objecting."

A large part of the judge's decision was an analysis of the effectiveness of web filters. he said that filters were widely available and often free. Even the government's own expert witness concluded that software filters are effective, most blocking at least 95 percent of sexually explicit Web pages.

The law is overly broad and vague, Judge Reed said. Requiring a credit card system wuld be unduly burdensome to websites and requiring personal information would be an invaasion of users' privacy.

The Post qutes Aaron Kenny, CTO of SafeBrowse, who suggests that the court only looked at filtering the Web but not interactive net technologie like VoIP or video over IM.

"The capabilities to intercept video and those sort of things is a technology that really hasn't come around yet," Kenny said. "In the end, it always comes down to the parent to protect their children."
Editorial standards