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A Virginia judge has blocked enforcement of a federal law which places restrictive Internet laws on pornography and sex-related content, saying that it breaks the US' First Amendment.

The People for the American, backed by 16 "Internet businesses", filed a lawsuit against the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which requires commercial Web sites to get proof of a user's age before allowing access to a site. While the Act was passed in good faith, Judge James H Michael Jr accepted the argument that it was impractical.

The law makes it a crime to sell, rent or lend sexually explicit photos or stories to juveniles and forms part of a nationwide movement to protect kids at the expense of everyone else. A lawyer made the case that the law is also vague on what would be deemed offensive - sex education stuff and art materials could easily be interpreted as being too adult for children.

Backing the lawsuit, the Judge produced a whopping 31-page piece on his decision. One of the people that helped draw up the law, chief counsel Bruce Taylor argued back: "This law is designed to address the paedophiles, the stalkers who send porn to kids. It's so narrow, it doesn't apply to protected speech. There's got to be a way to protect our children online just like we do in bookstores."

In a legal system where you can never be sure that outraged citizens won't override commonsense, the judge's decision is a welcome respite. An over-restrictive law can be just as bad as no law at all. ®

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