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CIPA Porn Law Appeal Reaches Supreme Court

Freedom of speech advocates have begun filing briefs in the Supreme Court seeking to uphold a Philadelphia federal appeals court ruling that the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was in violation of the First Amendment.

Oral arguments in the U.S. Justice Department appeal to have the decision overturned is scheduled to begin in the Supreme Court on March 5 where a final decision will be made on the controversial law, which seeks to regulate inappropriate content and install content filtering technology in public libraries nationwide.

Last May, the so-called Internet porn law was tossed out, with the appeals court agreeing that the use of filtering technology blocked portions of protected speech "whose suppression serves no legitimate government interest."

"Any public library that adheres to CIPA's conditions will necessarily restrict patrons access to a substantial amount of protected speech in violation of the First Amendment," according to the ruling.

The law, enacted in December 2000 in part to protect minors from access to Internet pornography, requires schools and libraries to use the filtering software to shield minors from adult material but, because it called for adults to get permission to access certain information, it raised the ire of the civil liberties and library groups. The law also blocked federal funding to libraries that did not install the software.

That ruling was a huge victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Library Association (ALA), who filed twin lawsuits last March to have the law tossed out on First Amendment and due process grounds.

Now, as the case heads to the Supreme Court, the ACLU and ALA have filed briefs supporting the court decision and asking the Supreme Court judges to uphold the ruling.

"The statute requires libraries to install blocking programs that inevitably censor a substantial amount of protected speech for adults and minors. Indeed no blocking program offers content categories that are limited -- or even tied in any way -- to CIPA's legal definitions of obscenity, child pornography, or material that is 'harmful to minors'," the ACLU/ALA brief argued.

The groups dismissed the CIPA-mandated blocking programs as "ineffective" and "overly broad" and noted that libraries around the country have devised a number of less restrictive ways to assist patrons who wish to avoid content they find offensive. "Under this Court's well-established First Amendment rules, CIPA fails the strict scrutiny required of content-based speech restrictions," the groups argued.

Three amicus briefs in support of the ACLU/ALA position have also been filed by the Online Policy Group, the Free Expression Policy Project and the Association of American Publishers.