Just in time for the reheating of the culture wars, as the social-issues Right tries to scare ma-and-pa America and media megacorporations run for cover, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) is rearing its head again.
For those of you who don’t remember COPA, here’s the short version: After the original Internet censorship bill, the Communications Decency Act, was struck down as unconstitutional, Congress passed COPA as a dubious successor. It was attached to a big omnibus spending bill that Bill Clinton signed in fall 1998. The ACLU and a group of online-publisher plaintiffs — including, proudly, Salon (here’s our original editorial on the matter) — immediately challenged the law and obtained an injunction against its enforcement. Since then the case has wended a slow path through the Federal judiciary: first, an appeals court upheld the injunction; then the U.S. Supreme Court kicked it back down to the appeals court; then the appeals court, a year ago, offered a more definitive set of reasons why the law is a very bad way to keep kids away from inappropriate material on the Net.
A more sensible administration would have accepted this ruling and gone home. But we’re cursed with John Ashcroft as an attorney general, so the Justice Department is appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court yet again. (The ACLU site offers tons of information.)
The case will be argued on Tuesday, March 2, and I’ll be there for the argument and for a press conference afterwards. The Court isn’t exactly WiFi enabled — in fact, electronic devices are prohibited — so I’ll have to write something up after the fact.