The federal Child Online Protection Act appears to be officially off the books after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn a lower court’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional.
Internet analysts and civil libertarians hailed the news as a victory for free speech and an important defeat of government attempts to regulate Web content.
The law, known as COPA and passed by Congress in 1998, barred Web sites from making “harmful” content available to minors over the Internet. COPA, passed in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down a similar law intended to protect children from explicit material online, has been embroiled in legal challenges since President Bill Clinton signed it.
Law’s Critics Rejoice
Longtime critics of the law applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to hear the case.
“Efforts like COPA are largely a waste of time, even if it was to be found constitutional,” said Bartlett Cleland, director of the Lewisville, Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation’s Center for Technology Freedom.
Craig Settles, president of Berkeley, California-based Internet marketing firm Successful.com, is equally cynical about any attempt by lawmakers to limit free speech online.
“All you’d end up doing is creating enormous financial burdens for content providers, ISPs, and the court systems in a process as useful as trying to catch the wind with your bare hands,” Settles said.
Violating Freedom of Speech
Cleland doubts attempts by Congress to protect children through legislation like COPA will accomplish anything close to the intended effects.
“COPA-like efforts are easily defeated while at the same time available technologies do more to solve the problem,” Cleland said. “Freedom of speech cannot be restricted even if it may somehow benefit children in the short run.
“I believe this whole episode was pretty idiotic and reflective of a group of people who understand neither the Internet, kids, nor the power of greed,” Cleland said. “They also failed History of Vice 101.”
Settles identified what he believes is the best course of action for parents looking to protect their children on the Internet.
“Generally speaking, people worried about this issue need to buy filtering software for their home,” Settles said. “Do the best you can teaching your own offspring some basic values, and call it a day.”
Troy Stouffer ([email protected]) writes from Baltimore, Maryland.