Supreme Court To Revisit Online Porn Law - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Business & Finance

Supreme Court To Revisit Online Porn Law

A new case asks whether a law, twice rejected by an appeals court, restricts too much material that adults have the right to see or buy.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to step into a fight over how the government can protect children from online smut without resorting to unconstitutional censorship.

Thorny issues raised by Internet regulations have returned over and over to the justices since 1997, when the court struck down Congress' first comprehensive attempt to punish people who make it too easy for children to find racy material online.

The latest case asks whether a subsequent law, twice rejected by an appeals court, restricts too much material that adults have the right to see or buy. On a more practical level, the court will decide whether the government can require some form of an adults-only screening system to ensure child computer users cannot see material deemed harmful to them.

"The Internet is the wild, wild West. It's anything goes, and anything goes because it has no discernible boundaries and you never know who's at the other side of the mouse," said Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University.

Justices have an opportunity, Kmiec said, to decide "whether a legal fence can be constructed in this otherwise wild and untamed terrain."

Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act in 1998 to crack down on Internet sites that do not block pornography and other inappropriate material from children. It calls for six months in jail and $50,000 in fines for first-time violators and additional fines for repeat offenders. It is on hold pending court challenges.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing booksellers, artists, explicit Web sites, and others, challenged the law as an unconstitutional damper on free speech.

The law could make criminals of many people who use the Internet for legitimate reasons, the challengers argue. For example, those who operate Web sites about gynecology and safe sex could be criminals under the law, as could Mitch Tepper, who posts explicit how-to sexual advice for disabled people, the ACLU claimed.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has twice struck down the law, most recently and conclusively in March with a ruling that the law is riddled with problems that make it "constitutionally infirm."

The Bush administration appealed to the high court, arguing children are "unprotected from the harmful effects of the enormous amount of pornography on the World Wide Web." The Child Online Protection Act is a reasonable solution, Solicitor General Theodore Olson told the court.

Olson said the main target is commercial pornographers who use sexually explicit "teasers" to lure customers.

The free teasers are available to nearly anyone surfing the Internet, and sometimes appear even when computer users are not seeking out pornography. They typically lead potential customers to a Web site that may require payment and age verification.

Critics are concerned that if the law is upheld, online newspapers, chat rooms, and other sites that offer adult but constitutionally protected speech could be forced to restrict access.

The law, signed by former President Clinton and endorsed by President Bush, was written to replace a 1996 statute, the Communications Decency Act, that the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional on free-speech grounds in 1997.

The Bush administration hopes to build on success in a similar case earlier this year. The Supreme Court upheld an Internet anti-pornography law against free speech challenges, ruling that the federal government can withhold money from libraries that won't install Internet blocking devices.

The Child Online Protection Act does not affect foreign pornographic Web sites, so its reach is limited.

"If the law is upheld, maybe it will help parents a little bit, but only a little bit," said Eugene Volokh, a visiting law professor at Harvard.

The case is Ashcroft v. ACLU, 03-218.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
Download this report from InformationWeek, in partnership with Dark Reading, to learn more about how today's IT operations teams work with cybersecurity operations, what technologies they are using, and how they communicate and share responsibility--or create risk by failing to do so. Get it now!
News
IT Spending Forecast: Unfortunately, It's Going to Hurt
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/15/2020
Commentary
Helping Developers and Enterprises Answer the Skills Dilemma
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  5/19/2020
Slideshows
Top 10 Programming Languages in Demand Right Now
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  4/28/2020
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
White Papers
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Sponsored Video
Flash Poll