A federal appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a Clinton-era law that would have forced websites with adult material to verify visitors' ages, dealing another blow to the government in a 10-year court battle over net censorship.
The 3rd U.S. Circurt Court of Appeals upheld on Tuesday a 2007 lower-court decision that the Child Online Protection Act violated the First Amendment since it was not the most effective way to keep children from visiting adult websites.
Emphasis is my own.
My question is this: Would this law be constitutional (in other words, not a breach of first amendment rights) if it were the most effective way of keeping children out of "adult" websites?
Both courts also found that the standards for material that had to be hidden from open browsing were so loosely defined that any content not suitable for a four-year-old would have been hidden behind a age-verification firewall.
While I have not read the law myself, nor would I likely comprehend the majority of it, I cannot imagine how one could legally outline unsuitable content. It seems the way to go, in most cases, is to be overly broad. You know, just to make sure you get everyone.
I also find it funny that they mention an "age-verification firewall." Are there firewalls now that can determine the age of the user on the machine that generated those packets? I think not.
"Unlike COPA, filters permit adults to determine if and when they want to use them and do not subject speakers to criminal or civil penalties," the court wrote.
This is the correct way to police your internet connection. If you have children in your home and are concerned about the websites they visit, there is no shortage of parental filtering software available. This is a clear case of over-governance.
What shocks me is the technical savvy and knowledge of filtering alternatives regarding technology by the courts.
COPA was intended to be a narrower version of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which would have catastrophically extended the rules of television 'decency' to the internet had the Supreme Court not emphatically rejected it in 1997.
"It is apparent that COPA, like the Communications Decency Act before it, 'effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another,' Reno, 521 U.S. at 874, 117 S.Ct. at 2346, and thus is overbroad. For this reason, COPA violates the First Amendment," the judges wrote. "These burdens would chill protected speech."
Again, emphasis is my own.
They [the ACLU] also argued the law would apply to anyone who wrote about mature subjects who also happened to have Google or Yahoo ads on their personal blog.
For its part, the government says the law was intended to apply to pornographic websites, not news sites. It also argues COPA's age restrictions would work with content filters.
It was "intended to apply to pornographic websites". Intended. If it were intended for just that, and not just to gain control over part of the internet, the law would have been written as such, in a much narrower fashion. As I mentioned above, it's hard to narrowly define what is "unsuitable", but there is already existing precedent on what is considered "pornographic."
I'm not advocating giving pornography to children, but this is a clear matter of parental responsibility, not government responsibility. Just as the V-chip allows parents to block what their children watch on television, there are many alternatives to blocking websites and content types just the same.