Feeds

Court defends America's right to online smut

First Amendment meets Groundhog Day

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Ten years after it was rubber stamped by US lawmakers, the free-speech-throttling Child Online Protection Act (COPA) remains in legal limbo, but its chances of survival took another blow this week as a federal appeals court upheld an earlier ban on the statute.

“COPA cannot withstand a strict scrutiny, vagueness, or over breadth analysis and thus is unconstitutional,” reads Tuesday’s ruling (PDF) from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The 1998 statute threatens six months of jail time — and hefty fines — for any American who posts “material that is harmful to minors” on the net.

Soon after COPA was passed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) mounted a challenge on behalf of several free speech crusaders, including the online mag Salon.com, the American slang archive UrbanDictionary.com, and the self-explanatory Sexual Health Network. “The law makes it a crime to engage in speech that is harmful to minors — and that is by definition speech that is protected for adults,” Chris Hansen, senior staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group, tells The Reg.

If the law is enacted, the likes of Salon would be forced to either avoid speech that may be harmful to minors — including sexual discussions — or put that speech behind a credit card log-in. A credit card log-in may or may prevent minors from reading — but it would certainly chase away adults. “No one wants to give their credit card number when reading free content,” Hansen says. “The net effect is that this would stop a lot of free speech that everybody agrees adults are entitled to read.”

The COPA case has already reached the Supreme Court twice, and it may be in line for a third visit.

In June 2004, the Supremes upheld a district court decision that COPA violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects free speech. But they sent the case back to the lower court, asking it to consider whether six years of technological change had affected alternative means of shielding minors from sexual content.

The ACLU has always argued that net filtering is the better option. “Filtering technology isn’t just less onerous. It’s more effective,” Hansen says. “[COPA] would only cover domestic web sites, but about half of all web content comes from overseas.” But the Supremes wanted to know if such technology was still up to the task.

In March of last year, the district court ruled against COPA yet again. But the Department of Justice appealed. Again. And now a federal appeals court has banned the statute. Again. The DoJ may or may not ask the Supreme Court to hear the case for a third time. And the Supremes may or may not agree to.

The DoJ did not respond to our request for comment. But department spokesman Charles Miller tells the AP, “We are disappointed that the court of appeals struck down a congressional statute designed to protect our children from exposure to sexually explicit materials on the Internet.”

Odds are, the department will indeed toss COPA back to the Supremes. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.