The government tells the Supreme Court that Web publishers should relax - a Web censorship law only applies to the "worst" porn peddlers. But why should we trust it? A menace haunts the land - a "very serious national problem" that is causing "irreparable damage to our most precious national resource." Eleven million souls fall victim to this scourge every day, yet it has resisted all efforts to control it.
That's the dire picture U.S. solicitor general Theodore Olson painted at Tuesday morning's Supreme Court oral arguments. But the case wasn't about terrorism, or the environment, or violent crime. Olson was telling the highest court in the land that the Republic, engulfed by a glut of pornography online, is imperilled by smut. The 1998 law at issue this week had hung on to life, through one close legal call after another, just long enough to get drafted in 2004's edition of the culture wars. Upset about Janet Jackson's Super Bowl nipple flash? Olson and his allies have a plan to sequester every "post-pubescent female breast" from the wrong sets of eyes online, report &to=http://www.salon.com' target=_blank>Salon.com
A law that imposes criminal penalties on operators of pornographic Web sites is desperately needed to protect children from a flood of online smut, the government's top appeals lawyer told the Supreme Court on Tuesday. At issue is the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), a 1998 measure that calls for up to six months in jail and $100,000 in fines for companies that make obscene material "available to any minor ... by means of the World Wide Web."
Federal law permits adults to view sexually explicit material in bookstores, movie theaters and elsewhere that would be considered obscene if shown to minors, inform &to=http://www.usatoday.com' target=_blank>USA Today.com
COPA, which imposes criminal sanctions on commercial Web sites that fail to make a good-faith effort to block access to sexual material that is "harmful" to people younger than 17, is needed to deal with the "menace" of "pervasive and essentially unavoidable Internet pornography that inflicts substantial physical and psychological damage on children," Olson said yesterday during oral arguments in the case.
"The government has a range of more effective and less intrusive tools to meet the same objective," ACLU lawyer Ann E. Beeson told the court yesterday. She cited the law's potentially chilling effect on such non-pornographic Web sites as one dedicated to discussion of the television series "Sex and the City."
The court seemed torn between some justices' lingering concerns about Internet censorship and others' desire not to strip Congress of power to legislate in an area that worries many constituents.