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Promoting Online Safety: The Home-School Partnership

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Supreme Court Continues to Block Enforcement of COPA

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision issued on June 29, continued to block enforcement of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA), but permitted the Bush administration to continue to make its case for the law in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

The law, passed after the high court overturned the 1996 Communications Decency Act, would impose penalties on the operators of Web sites purveying pornographic materials that fail to take steps, such as requiring a credit card for access, to prevent children under 17 from accessing their sites. The court majority continued to block enforcement of COPA as an unconstitutional infringement on the free-speech rights of adults.

A year ago, the same court upheld the constitutionality of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) as it applied to libraries. That law continues to require schools and libraries that make use of certain kinds of E-rate and federal technology funding to implement a “technology protection measure” on their computers that access the Internet. (COPA, incidentally, should not be confused with COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.)

In continuing to block enforcement of COPA, the court majority pointed to the use of filtering technology as a positive alternative to the restrictions embodied in COPA. Filters "impose selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source," the majority opinion said. The government, it added, now must demonstrate why the voluntary use of filters to screen inappropriate materials would not work as effectively as the criminal penalties that COPA would impose on some Web site operators.

The court concluded that filters may be a more effective solution because they can be used to block inappropriate content from sites located anywhere in the world. The COPA restrictions would apply only to Web sites based in the United States.

The majority said that its opinion “does not hold that Congress is incapable of enacting any regulation of the Internet designed to prevent minors from gaining access to harmful materials.” However, if the Justice Department decides to continue to fight for the implementation of COPA, it may be forced to argue that filters are not an effective solution for protecting children, which could be contrary to the arguments it made in successfully defending the mandates of CIPA.

The full text of Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union is available at

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