Alberto Gonzales has bigger problems these days, but his Justice Department just lost the latest round in a longstanding Internet censorship conflict.
The Child Online Protection Act went on trial again in recent months, and today, again, a federal court has struck down the law — which would require commercial online publishers like Salon to make sure that their readers are over 18 or face criminal prosecution for publishing material that might be “harmful to minors.” Publishers are supposed to be able to protect themselves from prosecution by requiring site visitors to register with their credit cards, thus ostensibly demonstrating their adult status.
The law is supposedly only aimed at commercial pornographers, but the law is absurdly vague. Somehow, publishers are supposed to trust the Justice Department to make the right call and understand who is a “bad” publisher and who isn’t. Placing such trust was problematic when the law was passed, under the Clinton administration; in the era of Bush justice, doing so would be utterly foolish.
Here’s the decision, which concludes that:
COPA facially violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of the plaintiffs because: (1) COPA is not narrowly tailored to the compelling interest of Congress; (2) defendant has failed to meet his burden of showing that COPA is the least restrictive and most effective alternative in achieving the compelling interest;
and (3) COPA is impermissibly vague and overbroad.
I am proud that Salon has been a plaintiff in this suit since 1998, when the ACLU first launched it. (Here’s my account of the 1994 oral arguments before the Supreme Court in an earlier phase of the COPA fight.) I have no idea whether, defeated at every turn, the Justice Department will drag this proceeding into another decade by appealing it. In the meantime, we can take another deep breath and be glad for the victory.
Here’s the AP story. And here’s a post by Salon editor Joan Walsh, who testified in this most recent round of the case. And here’s the ACLU’s page. And here’s CNET’s story.
[tags]copa, aclu, child online protection act, salon, internet censorship[/tags]
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