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Unconstitutional "save the children" bites the dust

After losing an appeals court challenge last July, proponents of 1998’s Child Online Protection Act received a final blow to their cause – this time from the United States Supreme Court, who quietly declined to review the law without comment.

COPA – not to be confused with COPPA – was passed overwhelming by congress under the Clinton administration; it sought to bar for-profit websites from allowing children access to materials deemed harmful for inappropriate to them, as judged by “contemporary community standards.”

How exactly COPA was supposed to have manifested is unclear. Many feared that the law would require sites hosting any kind of pornography – among other kinds of “harmful” material – to wall themselves off behind age-verification services (AVS), which generally require a credit card to use. No site would ever be prosecuted under the law, however, as in both 1998 and 2007 US courts enjoined against its enforcement, after finding the law overbroad and unconstitutional.

This is, in fact, the second time COPA faced the high court’s scrutiny. A 2004 Supreme Court decision agreed with previous court rulings – noting that filtering and other initiatives appeared to be a better option – and kicked the law back down to a U.S. district court for a new trial, which began in 2006.

By March 2007, COPA’s second trial ended on a note similar to the first one, and the law once again began its doomed trek up through the U.S. appeals system.

COPA’s main proponent was the U.S. department of justice, and it enjoyed considerable support from advocacy groups like Enough is Enough and the Bush Administration. Challengers to the law included the American Civil Liberties foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Salon.com, and adult goods retailer Condomania, among others.

COPA opponents of a “very carefully whipped up hysteria and paranoia,” said Enough is Enough in 1999, who felt the law to be “very reasonable.”

“For over a decade the government has been trying to thwart freedom of speech on the Internet, and for years the courts have been finding the attempts unconstitutional,” said ACLU lead attorney Chris Hansen, in a Wednesday press release.

In 2006, DoJ and White House investigators requested search engines data from companies like Google and Yahoo to support their, asking for a random sample of a million web site addresses in its search index, as well as a list of search queries received over a period of one week. While AOL, MSN, and Yahoo complied with the request – “on a limited basis,” according to a statement by Yahoo – Google resisted, and ended up facing down a subpoena instead.





"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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