Supreme Court weighs online protection act

WASHINGTON, D.C. ‘ The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Nov. 28 regarding the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act.

The government appealed after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in June 2000 that the law was unconstitutional.

COPA was signed into law in October 1998, imposing criminal penalties against commercial Web sites that disseminate material ‘harmful to minors.’

Ann Beeson, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, representing a coalition of Internet publishers suing to block the law, said COPA ‘threatens to transform this dynamic medium into a medium fit only for children.’

Solicitor General Theodore Olson responded by claiming COPA constitutionally addresses the Court’s previous concerns in striking down a similar measure four years ago. The Court ruled the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, violated the First Amendment.

Lower federal courts have repeatedly sided with the ACLU. The federal appeals court in Philadelphia halted enforcement of COPA in June 2000, citing concerns with the law’s use of a ‘contemporary community standards’ clause in identifying material that is ‘harmful to minors.’ Judges use the ‘community standards’ test when deciding whether material is legally obscene. Opponents of such legislation claim it would be impossible to use this test for every community because information on the Internet is available in any community.

A decision is expected before July 2002.