Child Online Protection Act held unconstitutional

[JURIST] A federal judge on Thursday granted a permanent injunction [decision, PDF] against enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) [text], a federal law that imposes civil and criminal penalties on website operators for making sexually explicit materials available to minors over the Internet and require adult websites to verify viewer age with a credit card number or any other reasonable method of age verification. Senior District Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. [American Inns of Court profile] of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania [official website] ruled:

After a trial on the merits, for the reasons that follow, notwithstanding the compelling interest of Congress in protecting children from sexually explicit material on the Web, I conclude today that COPA facially violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of the plaintiffs because: (1) at least some of the plaintiffs have standing; (2) COPA is not narrowly tailored to Congress’ compelling interest; (3) defendant has failed to meet his burden of showing that COPA is the least restrictive, most effective alternative in achieving the compelling interest; and (4) COPA is vague and overbroad. As a result, I will issue a permanent injunction against the enforcement of COPA.
The US Supreme Court in 2004 upheld a temporary injunction against the enforcement of COPA in Ashcroft v. ACLU [text], holding that COPA would likely violate the First Amendment, and remanded the case back to the District Court. Judge Reed presided over a four-week trial on the merits which concluded in November 2006.

COPA was enacted in 1998 after similar provisions contained in the Communications Decency Act (CDA) [text] were struck down in Reno v. ACLU [text] as unconstitutional because it was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest and because less restrictive alternatives were available. Last year, Google fought a Justice Department subpoena [JURIST report; subpoena text, PDF] seeking to force the search engine giant to hand over a large amount of user data, including one week's worth of query searches and up to 1 million web addresses as part of a federal effort to rewrite COPA. AP has more. Read the ACLU press release here.

 

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