ACLU defeats COPA, again

Another big victory for free speech on the Internet, and Salon.

Published March 22, 2007 3:04PM (EDT)

I just got word that the ACLU won its latest attempt to beat back the Child Online Protection Act, which would have imposed steep fines and potential prison terms on anyone who published material deemed "harmful" to minors and failed to use an age-verification system to keep minors out. A Clinton-era relic, the law in its various guises had almost outlasted three attorneys general: From Janet Reno to John Ashcroft to the embattled Alberto Gonzales, the government has defended COPA as protecting children from the big bad Internet, and the ACLU has fought it for almost 10 years. It was never enforced; an injunction blocking it came down in 1998; the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it in 1999; the Supreme Court determined that the Circuit Court lacked grounds to overturn it and sent it back for more review. When the 3rd Circuit Court struck it down again in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the ban but sent it back to district courts to consider whether the government could show there were ways to block minors that weren't unduly burdensome.

I testified in the case in October, in the Philadelphia courtroom of 3rd Circuit Court Senior Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. I had the odd pleasure of hearing government lawyers tell the world that Salon's provocative content has so much social value, we have nothing to fear from COPA -- and besides, screening minors wasn't that big a deal, anyway. I haven't yet read Reed's decision (PDF), but that argument doesn't seem to have carried the day.

By Joan Walsh

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