COPA Ruling Relied on Filtering Promises

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES —Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Child Online Protection Act was solely based on technology, adult industry attorneys and Internet experts say.

Technology such as filtering software may better protect children from unsavory material than laws like COPA, the court said in its 5-4 ruling.

“The court opined that filtering and blocking software which parents can install on their computers provides a better means of protecting children from Internet porn than a coercive criminal law,” Los Angeles attorney Gregory A. Piccionelli told XBiz.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote Tuesday in the court's majority opinion that, "Above all, promoting the use of filters does not condemn as criminal any category of speech."

Kennedy also called COPA a potentially "repressive force" in a free society.

Internet filtering software for years has been tagged as maligned category of technology because it sometimes mistakenly blocked even innocuous material.

But that has changed dramatically, and corporate managers to librarians are embracing filtering to control who sees what on websites and emails.

"Filters have better interfaces and are widely available," Alan Davidson of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology said. "They’re more sophisticated now."

Today's versions of filters can customize rules for viewing sites across the board — for companies to schools to consumers’ homes.

And most experts who have tested filters in institutions and companies say the court’s ruling was on target.

“This is a win for the Internet, and for the Constitution, but it is not a loss for families,” said Judith Krug, director of the American Library Association and Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation.“Parents who choose to filter their children’s access are exercising parental responsibility. When the government mandates filters, however, it’s censorship.”

But with the ruling Tuesday, some industry officials are still concerned about the “community standard” issue that still faces the online adult business.

Piccionelli said: “The court left unaddressed, however, a critical legal question facing the online adult entertainment industry — whether the determination of what constitutes harmful matter to minors or obscene material is to be judged by local community standards, the requirement since 1973, or by a national standard necessitated by the universal pervasiveness of the Internet.”