U.S. federal judge blocks Internet pornography law

Friday, March 23, 2007

Senior Judge Lowell Reed Jr. of the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a permanent injunction on Thursday against the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) passed in 1998 that says it is a crime to make online pornography accessible for underage children.

Reed expressed "personal regret at having to set aside yet another attempt to protect our children from harmful material" but said that adults would "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."

He added that software filters would be more effective in protecting children than the COPA.

Chris Hansen of the ACLU, the plaintiffs, said that were the law to go into effect, "all Internet would have had to be brought down to a level that is acceptable to a 6-year-old and that would have had a devastating effect on the kind of interactions that take place on the Internet."

According to the law, which became effective in 1998 but had been barred from enforcement by the Supreme Court, websites containing "commercial" pornography are required to verify that the person looking at the material is of age, by asking for a credit card number. The law says that it would stop minors from viewing material that is "harmful by contemporary community standards."

One advocacy group, Enough is Enough which tries to protect underage children from Internet predators and pornography, spoke out against the ruling.

"It’s a very frustrating decision. We have an epidemic problem of kids accessing pornographic material online. Pornographers continue to get a free pass on the Internet from our federal courts, and efforts by Congress keep getting trumped," said president of the organization, Donna Rice Hughes.

If websites were caught not following the law, penalties could range from a 6 month jail sentence and fines of up to $50,000 [USD].

The United States Attorney's office is reported to be looking over the ruling and trying to make a decision on whether to try and appeal the decision in Supreme Court.