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Federal judge overturns Utah law restricting material harmful to minors

The US District Court for the District of Utah [official website] on Tuesday overturned [order, PDF] Utah Code §§ 76-10-1206 and 76-10-1233 [text], major parts of a Utah law that regulate electronic materials potentially harmful to minors. Originally passed in 2005, the law was challenged [JURIST report] by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah [advocacy website] as overbroad and in violation of the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Judge Dee Benson held that the First Amendment precludes prosecution under § 1206 for simply posting material harmful to minors on a generally accessible website. The decision limits the application of the law such that a person cannot be prosecuted under § 1206 unless that person directs harmful material to a specific minor recipient either intentionally or knowingly, or negligently by not first determining whether or not the recipient is a minor. Benson also ordered that no one be prosecuted under § 1233, which requires that Internet service providers restrict minors' access to harmful materials, as long as the content uses words or images that can be picked up by reasonably priced commercially available software that can screen and block access to such materials. The ruling does not affect material that constitutes child pornography, "the production, possession, possession with intent to distribute, [or] distribution" of which is not protected by the First Amendment and is always prohibited by Utah state law [§ 76-5b-103, text].

In 2008 the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] affirmed a district court's decision [JURIST reports] to strike down the federal Child Online Protection Act (COPA) [text], which held website operators who made sexually obscene materials available to children civilly and criminally liable. That court found that COPA did not pass strict scrutiny because it was not narrowly tailored to the legitimate interest in protecting children, as there were less restrictive means available. In 2004 the US Supreme Court made a decision [opinion, PDF] stating that COPA probably was a violation of the First Amendment, but remanded it back to a federal district court to make factual findings on what technology was available to parents to filter the content to which their children have access.

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