Court strikes down Internet porn law

Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr. has dealt another blow to government efforts to control Internet pornography, striking down a 1998 U.S. law that makes it a crime for commercial Web site operators to let children access "harmful" material. In the ruling, the judge said parents can protect their children through software filters and other less restrictive means: "Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if (free speech) protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection."

The law would have criminalized Web sites that allow children to access material deemed "harmful to minors" by "contemporary community standards." The sites would have been expected to require a credit card number or other proof of age. Penalties included a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison. Sexual health sites challenged the law arguing that the Child Online Protection Act was unconstitutionally vague and would have had a chilling effect on speech. Technology experts said parents now have more serious concerns than Web sites with pornography, such as online predators on social-networking sites.

To defend the nine-year-old Child Online Protection Act, government lawyers attacked software filters as burdensome and less effective, even though they have previously defended their use in public schools and libraries. "It is not reasonable for the government to expect all parents to shoulder the burden to cut off every possible source of adult content for their children, rather than the government's addressing the problem at its source," a government attorney, Peter D. Keisler, argued in a post-trial brief. Critics of the law argued that filters work best because they let parents set limits based on their own values and their child's age. The law addressed material accessed by children under 17, but applied only to content hosted in the United States.

News source: CNN

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