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Trial Could Put Net Censorship Back On Track

Trial Could Put Net Censorship Back On Track By Mary Mosquera, TechWeb Feb 2, 1999 (1:12 PM) URL:

A federal judge may have quashed enforcement of an Internet censorship law -- but not for long, said an attorney Tuesday who wrote a brief in its support. The Child Online Protection Act has a good chance of prevailing if the government opts to test it in court, said Bruce Taylor, president and chief counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families, a group that offers legal assistance in cases involving child-pornography laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Reed Jr. issued a preliminary injunction Monday blocking the law, but the Justice Department could appeal the injunction or open up the law for a trial on its merits.

Reed depicted the case in his ruling as pitting the Constitution against society's protection of its children, but said the majority's will was not to be "at the expense of stifling the rights embodied in the Constitution." The opposing groups established a strong enough case they were likely to win on the merits, the judge wrote.

"The Child Online Protection Act will be found constitutional," Taylor said. A jury would be more sympathetic to the protection law than a judge reading what attorneys put in the record, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union led the challenge on behalf of 17 Internet sites against the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, passed by Congress last fall. The law was designed to protect children from materials that are allegedly harmful to minors.

"Protection is a shared responsibility between parents, the technology community, and the legal community." -- Donna Rice Hughes Enough is Enough

The law is similar to -- but more limited than -- the Communications Decency Act, struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997.

By blocking the federal law, the judge agreed with the civil-liberties groups that there are less-restrictive means to protect children online, said Ari Schwartz, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, an activist group in Washington, D.C. The civil-liberties group encourages Internet filters and other tools that can be used by parents and educators, Schwartz said, as long as it is not mandated by the government.

A federal law is necessary to help protect children on the Internet, said Donna Rice Hughes, spokeswoman for Enough is Enough, which advocates safety initiatives for children online. "Protection is a shared responsibility between parents, the technology community, and the legal community," she said.