A federal judge in Philadelphia struck down a 1998 law Thursday that made it a crime for Web sites to allow children to gain access to material deemed “harmful.”
The ruling is the second major setback in federal efforts to control Internet pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 1997.
Senior Judge Lowell Reed Jr. of the U.S. District Court ruled that the law was ineffective, overly broad and at odds with free speech. Reed added that there were less restrictive methods, such as software filters, that parents could use to control their children’s Internet use.
Reed wrote that he was blocking the law out of concern that “perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection.”
The law, the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, never took effect because of an injunction that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2004.
Hopefully, after more than a decade of Web ubiquity, we’ve all moved past the idea that this kind of regulation is even possible, let alone desireable. I presume Congress now has more important things to occupy itself and will cease chasing this ghost. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on that proposition – strange things do still happen in election years – but one can hope. Salon’s Joan Walsh has more.