By Robert Campbell
A 1998 law designed to block children from viewing pornography Web
sites violates free speech rights, a U.S. federal court ruled on
Thursday, in a blow to government efforts to restrict Internet smut.
The ruling sided with a challenge brought by the American Civil
Liberties Union, which had argued that the provisions of the Child
Online Protection Act were too restrictive and violated the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects free speech.
Judge Lowell Reed of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia wrote in
his ruling that while he sympathized with the goal of restricting
minors from seeing pornography, other means that were less restrictive
of free speech, such as software filters, were available to block such
"I may not turn a blind eye to the law ... to protect this nation's
youth by upholding a flawed statute, especially when a more effective
and less restrictive alternative is readily available," the judge
wrote in his ruling.
Government lawyers had argued during the four-week trial that Internet
filters were ineffective tools since most parents did not actively use
Supporters of the law predicted the ruling will be appealed or that
new legislation would be passed by Congress.
"It doesn't matter if the Republicans are in the majority or the
Democrats. This issue is something both sides of the aisle feel
strongly about," said Donna Rice Hughes of Enough Is Enough, an
Internet pornography watchdog group.
John Morris, a lawyer for the Center for Democracy and Technology,
told reporters in a teleconference, "This law is not really aimed at
commercial pornography but really reaches far beyond that to a broad
range of valuable content."
The Child Online Protection Act made it a crime for any person to
provide minors access to "harmful material" over the
Internet. Violators could be fined up to $50,000 and imprisoned for up
to 6 months.
The law was never enforced because it was immediately challenged in
court after being signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.
Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.
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