Court Tosses Internet Porn Law

Internet Pornography, Porn, Web, Site AP

A federal judge threw out on Friday a Pennsylvania law requiring Internet service providers to block Web sites containing child pornography, saying the law was unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

Enacted in 2002, the law gave Pennsylvania's attorney general the power to require that companies like America Online Inc. block customers from viewing Web sites that had been identified by the state as containing illegal content.

No one challenged the state's right to stop the distribution of child porn, which is already illegal under federal law, but lawyers for the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that the technology used to block those Web sites was clumsy.

Over two years, the groups said, ISPs trying to obey blocking orders were forced to cut access to at least 1.5 million legal Web sites that had nothing to do with child pornography, but were part of the same Internet cluster as the offending sites.

Lawyers for the state said the technology exists for ISPs to block selectively and blamed Internet companies for not wanting to upgrade their systems.

U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois disagreed, saying current state of technology meant the law "cannot be implemented without excessive blocking of innocent speech in violation of the First Amendment."

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court made a similar ruling on a federal indecency law.

The high court divided 5-to-4 over a law passed in 1998, signed by then-President Clinton and later backed by the Bush administration. The majority said a lower court was correct to block the law from taking effect because it likely violates the First Amendment.

The court did not end the long fight over the law, however. The majority sent the case back to a lower court for a trial that could give the government a chance to prove the law does not go too far. That decision will hinge on whether technology exists that can block obscene material without limiting access to other Web sites.

The law, which never took effect, would have authorized fines up to $50,000 for the crime of placing material that is "harmful to minors" within the easy reach of children on the Internet.
  • Jarrett Murphy

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