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Keep Kids Safe with Software, Not Censorship

Catherine Crump,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
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October 23, 2007

Yesterday we filed a brief in 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals , asking it uphold a federal court decision that the Child Online Protection Act is unconstitutional . COPA makes it unlawful to put “harmful to minors” material on the Web. At last year’s trial in Philadelphia, we asserted that the law is unconstitutional, because it restricts access to a vast amount of speech that adults are constitutionally entitled to receive. The court agreed and forbade the government from enforcing it.

The government appealed the court’s decision last month, and we filed yesterday’s brief to respond to that appeal. In our brief, we describe how COPA suppresses a wide range of speech – from sexual health information to artistic drawings – while doing little to keep kids safe online. Because the law does not apply to foreign Web sites, even the worst hard-core pornography will remain available.

COPA can’t keep pace with the filtering software that does a much better job at protecting kids from harmful content. (This side-by-side PDF comparison of software filters v. COPA shows how inadequately the law protects children.) Hopefully the appeals court will agree.

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