Child-Porn Blocking Law Tossed by U.S. Court

Rhett Pardon
PHILADELPHIA —A federal judge on Friday tossed a Pennsylvania law that required Internet service providers to block customers from viewing child porn.

U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois said that today’s technology can’t be implemented “without excessive blocking of innocent speech in violation of the First Amendment."

“[The state] is permanently enjoined from taking any action against an ISP for failing to comply with an informal notice or court order issued pursuant to the Internet Child Pornography Act,” DuBois wrote.

The state enacted the law in 2002 that gave the Attorney General the power to fine ISPs up to $30,000 and hand out jail terms of up to seven years to company executives who don’t block customers from viewing websites that had been fingered by the state as containing illegal content.

The Attorney General’s office searched the Internet for child porn and also set up a web page that allowed Pennsylvania residents to report instances of child porn.

The office then "sent about 500 informal notices to the ISPs through whose services the offending material had been accessed, asking the ISPs to disable their subscribers' access to the sites. The ISPs generally wrote in response that they had complied with the notice," according to court papers.

The Pennsylvania law, collectively known as §§ 7621-7630, gave an ISP five days to block access to the website after receiving notice.

With the ruling, lawyers for the state said the technology exists for ISPs to block selectively and blamed Internet companies for not wanting to upgrade their systems.

They also argued that "a URL is neither a person, nor a real forum, nor a limited commodity," and that blocking access to web sites doesn’t interfere with free speech.

"Disablement of an ISP's customers' access to a particular URL for even an indefinite time does not implicate First Amendment rights," state attorneys said in a brief.

But lawyers for the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union argued the technology used to block those websites was less than on-target.

CDT attorneys said that 1.5 million websites that don’t contain child porn have also been blocked since the attorney general's office started sending out notices to ISPs in April 2002.

The case is Center for Democracy and Technology, American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and PlantageNet Inc. vs. Gerald Pappert, Attorney General, No. 03-5051.