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Last Week in COPA Court

Catherine Crump,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
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November 5, 2006

Hello again from the COPA trial! Let me try to fill you in on what happened last week.

First off, the Court heard from a trio of school librarians. They explained that in their experience, Internet filters keep kids safe from inappropriate content. Clover Taylor, a high school librarian from Crozet, Virginia, said that in “talking to colleagues, there were images that came up [on students’ computers] that were inappropriate. Since the filter has been installed, that instance has been reduced to near zero.” The librarians also described that schools today teach kids how to use the Internet safely.

Second, the Court heard from a parade of Web speakers who fear they will be prosecuted under COPA. The purpose of this testimony was to showcase the valuable speech that will be lost if the law goes into effect.

Especially compelling was the testimony of Dr. Mitch Tepper, founder and President of the Sexual Health Network. Dr. Tepper initially created the organization to provide easy access to sexual health information to those with disabilities and chronic conditions, but has broadened the organization’s scope to include everyone.

At trial, Dr. Tepper explained the unique importance for individuals with disabilities of being able to access sexual health information on the web:

Q: And what about the world wide web is particularly useful for people with disabilities?

A: Well, it gives people with disabilities really unparalleled access to the same information as people without disabilities. So no longer do they worry about how they get transportation to a library or a bookstore, whether they get to that bookstore and it is accessible. They don’t have to pay for it on, so all the information is free. So it’s not just easily accessible, but it’s in a way physically accessible . . .

Third, the Court heard from another expert witness, Henry Reichman. Professor Reichman has spent decades studying and cataloging instances of censorship around the country. Having reviewed plaintiffs’ websites, Professor Reichman concluded that the material they publish is more explicit than what has been challenged as inappropriate for minors in libraries, schools and elsewhere.

We’re only a day away from completing our side of the case. After that, the government gets a shot to tell its side of the story – subject to what we hope will be some pretty rigorous cross-examination. Stay tuned.

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