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3/23/2007
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Child Protection Act Nixed

The American Civil Liberties Union and Focus on the Family agree on little. But both say it will be difficult for U.S. lawmakers to craft new legislation to keep children away from online porn after a judge last week ruled a 1998 act unconstitutional.

The Child Online Protection Act was effectively killed by U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Reed Jr.'s ruling, which found COPA simultaneously too broad and too narrow.

Federal lawmakers wrote COPA in 1998 with the intent of protecting children from porn and other indecent material on the Web. The law threatened commercial Web sites with fines of up to $50,000 a day and six months in prison for each day they disseminated information deemed "harmful to children." It never took effect because a court barred enforcement pending the outcome of legal challenges.

Reed said the law is narrow in its failure to address technologies such as peer-to-peer file sharing, community sites, and foreign sources, but is broad in that it targets speech protected under the U.S. Constitution. One key issue in the case was whether Web filtering technology could protect children more effectively than the law.

"This creates an interesting conundrum for [the] defendant where broadening COPA's reach would likely make it overbroad, but by narrowing its reach to HTTP or successor protocols, Congress has made COPA underinclusive and less effective than filters," the judge wrote in his decision.

The act drew widespread attention last year after the government requested records from search companies to support its defense of COPA. Google refused and successfully argued for a narrower request. The government used the search query information in its case.

A spokesman says the Justice Department hasn't decided whether to appeal.

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