29.6.04

US Supreme Court blocks Internet Porn Law

The United States Supreme Court has blocked the controversial 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) after a majority ruling decided that could be in breach of the right to free speech granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Passed by Congress in 1998 the law has yet to come into effect and intorduced a range of measures aimed at protecting children against internet porn.

What made the measures so controversial was the fact that they would have required all users wishing to access 'adult' sites to register details. Free speech campaigners said that this posed an undue restriction on people's right to communicate freely and consequently was a violation of their First Amendment rights in this context.

Ruling 5 to 4 against the Act, the Supreme Court sided with the view that there were other methods for safeguarding children against porn sites that were less restrictive on the legitimate rights of adults to view such sites (assuming the sites contained material that was itself not grossly indecent or illegal!)

The other concern voiced by web publishers was that under the Act, large fines could be handed out to anyone who placed material that was harmful to minors on the net. Taken literally, this would render hundreds of sites and vast quantities of material potentially illegal.

The effect of the Supreme Court ruling is to make legislators take a fresh look at the law and address the fundamental issue that lies in access rather than availability of pornographic material on the internet.

Both sides will now have to present their arguments before a lower court which will pass judgment on whether the law, if brought into force, would violate the First Amendment.

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