Court Bounces Pa. Online Child Porn Law


A federal court today struck down a Pennsylvania state law requiring
Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to Web sites that contain
child pornography. The ruling states the controversial measure was a violation of
constitutionally protected free speech.


ISPs had been forced to block Web sites that shared domain names or IP
addresses with those identified by the Pennsylvania attorney general as
containing child porn. Because of shared addresses, ISPs were forced to
block access to sites that had contained no child pornography.


“There is little evidence that the act has reduced the production of child
pornography or the child sexual abuse associated with its creation,” U.S.
District Judge Jan E. DuBois wrote in the decision. “On the other
hand, there is an abundance of evidence that implementation of the act has
resulted in massive suppression of speech protected by the first amendment.”


The two-year-old law allowed state and local law enforcement officials to
ask a state judge for an order declaring certain Internet sites as
containing child pornography and requiring ISPs serving Pennsylvania
citizens to block the content. The Pennsylvania attorney general has issued
more than 300 orders requiring that specific Internet sites be blocked.


“Although no one disputes that child pornography is and should be illegal to
distribute, the Pennsylvania law threatened to cut off access to more than a
million perfectly legitimate Web sites, in an ineffectual attempt to block
alleged child pornography sites,” Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the digital
rights group Electronic Freedom Foundation, said in a statement. “The
judge’s decision correctly
recognizes that the first amendment does not tolerate such a burden on
protected expression.”


Last September, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT),
Pennsylvania ACLU and a Pennsylvania ISP filed a challenge to the two-year-old
law. The groups argued that the law makes any ISP doing business in
Pennsylvania potentially liable for content anywhere on the Internet.


The CDT said compliance with the law required ISPs to block content
“completely unrelated to any child pornography sites,” because most Internet
sites share their IP addresses with wholly unrelated sites.


According to the CDT, the law also forced ISPs to manipulate the sensitive
“routing tables” used to send communications around the Internet, increasing
the risk of major Internet service outages.

News Around the Web