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Online Free Speech on Trial

Catherine Crump,
Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
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October 23, 2006

It is a big day at the ACLU. After bouncing around the court system for eight years, our challenge to the federal government’s Internet censorship law is finally going to trial.

The law we’re challenging is called the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). COPA makes it a federal crime to put material that is “harmful to minors” on the Web. COPA would force massive quantities of constitutionally protected speech off the Internet. We’re asking the court to invalidate COPA because it violates the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The quantity of speech that would be criminalized by COPA is astonishing. Think about the topics of conversation that parents view as appropriate for their 5 year-olds. Then think about the topics that are appropriate for adults. The difference is huge.

In that gap falls a great range of speech on topics. It includes speech about whether it is okay to be gay. It includes fine art that happens to involve nudes. It involves sex ed advice geared toward teenagers who may be to embarrassed to ask anyone else.

The creators of all three sites above will be testifying at our trial. The information they provide is important. Our right to access it deserves to be protected.

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