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ACLU challenge to federal child protection law goes to trial

[JURIST] The federal bench trial of a lawsuit [ACLU materials; press release] challenging the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) [text] began Monday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania [official website]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] brought the suit on behalf of internet websites such as Salon.com and Nerve.com, arguing that the severe punishments outlined in COPA for publishing material considered "harmful to children" restrict free speech. COPA, which has not been enforced since its inception, mandates that commercial websites require adult users to enter some variation of an access code not available to children in order to view the websites containing pornography. The ACLU is advocating for alternative methods to prevent children from viewing the websites, such as parent-controlled filters, while the US Justice Department [official website] wants to prevent children's access to the websites altogether. The ACLU further argues that the law does nothing to prevent children from viewing content posted in other countries. The trial is expected to last four weeks.

During preparations for legal challenges to COPA, the Justice Department subpoenaed search data from popular internet search engines in an effort to extrapolate the widespread availability of pornography websites viewable by children. Google [corporate backgrounder] refused to comply with the subpoena, citing trade secret concerns rather than privacy issues. In March Judge James Ware of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] granted the Justice Department limited access [JURIST report] to the Google records. AP has more.

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