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RealTime IT News

High Court Strikes Down Virtual Child Porno Law

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday the federal virtual child pornography law is a violation of free speech rights. The law made it crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison to produce or sell computer-generated images of children engaged in sexual acts. Possession of such images carried a maximum prison term of five years.

The 6-3 decision striking down the law was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said the statute was too broad and was unconstitutional. The high court rejected arguments by the Department of Justice that virtual child pornography was directly related to child sexual abuse. The Court said the First Amendment protects pornographers that produce images that only appear to have children engaging in sexual acts.

Passed in 1996, the law targeted advanced computer imaging technology used to alter innocent photographs of children into images of simulated sex. Challenged by the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for pornographers, the law was held constitutional by a federal judge but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, ruled in 1999 that the law violated free speech protection.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court said simulated pictures of child sexual images were not pornography as previously defined by the Court. Child pornography involving real children is not protected by the First Amendment.

The Court has yet to rule in another case dealing with child pornography that challenges the constitutionality of laws involving children's access to sexually explicit material on the Internet.