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Child Porn Bill Reviewed

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Oct 14, 2003 12:00 AM PDT    Text size: 
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Once again the U.S. Supreme Court is returning to the drawing board to resolve the longstanding argument on how to protect children from exposure to online pornography while at the same time not infringing on First Amendment rights.

The Court will decide whether the government can require adult webmasters to install some form of an adult-only screening system to ensure that children cannot see adult material deemed harmful to them.

According to reports, this is the second time in two years that the high court has reviewed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), an Internet pornography bill passed by Congress in 1998. So far no law has been enacted and each attempt to pass the Congress-backed bill has met with complex and contentious arguments related to free speech and civil liberties.

The basic premise of COPA, according to the bill's verbage is to "prevent trafficking in child pornography and obscenity, to proscribe pandering and solicitation relating to visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, to prevent the use of child pornography and obscenity to facilitate crimes against children, and for other purposes."

COPA could have far-reaching implications for the adult world, and according to reports, if enacted, it could mean six months in jail and $50,000 in fines for first-time violators and additional fines for repeat offenders.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blocked COPA in 2000, claiming it was a form of censorship and that its terms were so broad that it would outlaw pornographic and non-pornographic material that adults have the right to see.

Most recently, the Supreme Court struck down COPA in March of this year calling it unconstitutional in that it allows the Internet to be "judged by community standards."

The ACLU has been a staunch supporter of adult websites, adult magazine sellers, and other businesses and individuals involved in the online adult and sex industries and sees COPA as a "damper" on free speech.

According to the ACLU, COPA directly targets online pornographers and could possibly make criminals of many people who use the Internet for legitimate, often health-related reasons.

However, from Congress' perspective, COPA is a justifiable means of targeting commercial pornographers. Among the many facets of COPA's terms, the court could target websites that use sexually explicit "teasers" to lure in customers, very often snagging children in their attempt to gain adult subscribers. COPA could also require adult website owners to ask for credit card and contact information before permitting access to adult content.

Among the bill's more argued points, COPA could prohibit virtual child pornography, which includes digital depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit acts.

"COPA is just as unconstitutional now as when federal courts struck it down in 1999 and again in 2000," said Shari Steele, executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization. "We are pleased the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case so that COPA can follow its predecessor, the Communications Decency Act, into the dustbin of history."

President Bush recently made a plea to Congress to take faster steps in protecting children from online pornography.

Bush was quoted as saying: "The Senate needs to get moving and join the House in providing our prosecutors with the tools necessary to help shut down this obscenity, this crime."

Bush announced that he wants to double funding available for undercover chat room investigations from $6.5 million to $12.5 million beginning in October of this year.

"Our efforts to fight Internet exploitation of children extend throughout this government, throughout all levels of government," Bush was quoted as saying.

"It is very important that we prosecute those who manufacture and distribute child pornography," said Joan Irvine, executive director of Adult Sites Against Child Pornography (ASACP). "I am not an expert on the First Amendment or free speech issues, but child pornography is horrific and we need to do everything we can to eliminate it from the Internet. ASACP and many professional adult sites are working very actively to facilitate this."

The Supreme Court's decision on COPA is expected sometime in June, 2004.

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