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Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Regulating Online Indecency

With a quiet decision last week to refuse to hear appeals on banning the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), the Supreme Court has effectively brought an end to ten years of litigation on the extent to which the government can constitutionally regulate material online.

Created in 1998, the COPA made it illegal to display pornographic material on a website without some kind of access code or system for verifying age. What’s notable about the COPA regulation, however, was how the Act defined “material harmful to minors” far beyond the scope of the usual standards for obscenity.

The ACLU and other supporters arguing that the Act violated the First Amendment are framing this as a win for freedom of speech online. As Chris Hansen, lead attorney at the ACLU on the case, recently reported to the AP:

“For over a decade the government has been trying to thwart freedom of speech on the Internet, and for years the courts have been finding the attempts unconstitutional,” said Chris Hansen, the ACLU’s lead attorney on the case. “It is not the role of the government to decide what people can see and do on the Internet. Those are personal decisions that should be made by individuals and their families.”

With COPA demolished and with the latest Berkman study suggesting that threats from child predators online may be overblown, the case for strong centralized regulation of content and accessibility online to protect minors seems largely stalled.

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