Internet Censorship Essay - The ACLU and the Child Online Protection Act

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The ACLU and the Child Online Protection Act The Child Online Protection Act (COPA) was approved by Congress on August 16, 1998. It is the purpose of this essay to demonstrate how the ACLU destroyed this family-oriented act. Immediately after COPA was signed by the President, the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of groups representing publishers, Internet Service Providers, journalists, and the technology industry challenged the law in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Federal District Court Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. issued a temporary restraining order blocking the government from enforcing COPA. On January 11, 1999 both sides filed briefs to argue the constitutionality of the law.(ACLU) Congress's intention in enacting COPA was to protect minor children from access to free erotic "teaser" pictures available at commercial pornography sites on the World Wide Web. In order to accomplish this governmental interest, the law specifically requires commercial pornography sellers to take a credit card or adult PIN or access number in order to insure that visiting children or teenagers will not be able to see graphic sex pictures on the front pages of commercial pornography WWW. sites. COPA provides punishment of up to six months in jail and a $50,000 fine for each violation. Plaintiffs alleged in their brief that COPA violates the First Amendment because: (1) It creates an effective ban on constitutionally protected speech by and to adults, and is not the least restrictive means of accomplishing any governmental purpose, and therefore is substantially overbroad; (2) It interferes with the rights of minors to access and view material that is not harmful to them by prohibiting the dissemination of any material with sexual content that is "harmful to minors" of any age, despite the fact that the material will not be "harmful" to all minors; (3) It inhibits an individual's right to communicate and access information anonymously; and (4) It is unconstitutionally vague. The government argued that COPA is carefully limited in scope to deal only with the problem of "teaser" images that exist on the World Wide Web (meaning the law excludes other Internet, Usenet, e-mail, BBS, chat and online services) and further the government maintained that the law is directed solely at commercial sellers of pornography which is deemed to be "obscene to minors" or "harmful to minors"(meaning all non-commercial, non-profit, educational, governmental and private communications are excluded).

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