TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Judge to Rule on Landmark Internet Porn Law

Judge to Rule on Landmark Internet Porn Law

John Hurdle (
Tue, 21 Nov 2006 19:47:47 -0600

By Jon Hurdle

A U.S. law designed to prevent children from viewing pornography
online would undermine the free speech of millions of adult Internet
users, opponents of the measure said on Monday.

The law is so imprecisely written it would restrict most adult
Internet users to material that is only suitable for children, lawyers
for the American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs said in
closing arguments of a four-week trial.

The ACLU and others sued the U.S. government, claiming the Child
Online Protection Act of 1998 violates the Constitution, and they
argued on Monday that filtering was a more effective tool that does
not curtail free speech.

But attornies for the U.S. government called the law necessary to
protect young people from sexually explicit material and said Internet
filtering technology was not good enough to block offending Web sites
from personal computers.

"Evidence shows that many parents do not actively use the filters,"
said Joel McElvain, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department.

Judge Lowell Reed of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania is expected to rule in spring 2007, and lawyers said
the ruling was likely to be appealed because the case is seen as an
important test of free speech limits on the Internet.

Among those suing are, an online magazine about sexual
literature, art and politics that claims 1 million readers a month,
and Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary of contemporary slang with
40 million readers.

The law, known as COPA, could force them to stop publishing, ACLU
attorney Chris Hansen said.

"That's an awful lot of speech that would be chilled by COPA going into
effect," Hansen said.

The law has never been implemented because it was challenged in court
immediately after its signing by former President Bill Clinton.

It was held to be unconstitutional by federal district and appeals
courts. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed an injunction against
enforcement to stand, and referred the case back to the Pennsylvania
court for a full trial.

The law would impose a maximum fine of $50,000 a day and up to six
months in prison for anyone who uses the Internet to "make any
communication for commercial purposes that is available to any minor
and that includes any material that is harmful to minors."

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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