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U.S. Judge Rejects Law to Block Child Porn on Web
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PostPost subject: U.S. Judge Rejects Law to Block Child Porn on Web
Posted: Fri Sep 10, 2004 10:49 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania law allowing the state to force Internet service providers to block access to child pornography sites is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

Judge Jan Dubois, of the U.S. court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, found that the law was unconstitutional because technology used to block the sites would also prevent users from accessing sites that had nothing to do with child pornography.

"With the current state of technology, the act cannot be implemented without excessive blocking of innocent speech in violation of the First Amendment," the judge wrote.

The decision could set a national precedent on Internet regulation, said John Morris, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based advocacy group that brought the suit against Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert.

The other plaintiffs were the American Civil Liberties Union and Plantagenet, a Pennsylvania-based Internet service provider.

"This will send a strong message across to other states that were looking at this case," Morris said. Maryland, New Jersey and Oklahoma have been considering similar laws, he said.

Federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have several times rejected efforts to curb online pornography, as violations of constitutional free-speech protections.

Morris said the attorney general's office secretly issued orders during 2002 and 2003 that told Internet providers to block access to Web server computers that hosted about 400 child porn sites.

In the course of implementing the Internet Child Pornography Act, passed in 2002, the providers were forced to deny access to over 1 million other sites that were legitimate, he said.

"It's as if the U.S. Postal Service would stop delivering mail to an entire apartment building because one of the residents was accused of doing something illegal," Morris said.

But Sean Connolly, a spokesman for Pappert, argued that the technology existed to block access to individual Web sites, and that if legitimate sites were also blocked during the state's enforcement action, it was because the Internet providers were not using the technology properly.

"We're disappointed," Connolly said. "We believe the law works well and we're now reviewing the judge's decision before deciding whether to ask the court to reconsider or to appeal."

The court ruling is unlikely to make child pornography any more available, Morris argued, because the law was largely ineffective in preventing it. Such sites often move between different server computers, and users employ software that disguises their identity, a technique that makes the blocking technology ineffective, he said.

Most of the legitimate U.S.-based Web sites overcame the blocking by moving to other servers, although an estimated half-million foreign based sites that were blocked by the law are still inaccessible, Morris said.

? Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
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