Back in the late 90s, it was considered trendy to pass legislation that would protect “the children” from “objectionable” material online. Never mind the fact that those laws were usually written in such a way that they would limit adults from accessing all sorts of content online.
We’re not just talking about skeezy guys with credit cards who are willing to pay for their porn. We’re also talking about everything from erotic literature to breast cancer self-exam tutorials. Short stories with graphic language. You name it.
Today a federal judge in Philadelphia struck down the 1998 Child Online Protection Action (COPA). The law hasn’t ever really been enforced. And although the government could appeal, I’m hoping this is the end of such heavy-handed efforts.
I remember being really concerned with this sort of thing back in the 90s. The internet was much newer then. It was full of promise, but all that many people could see was that it was full of porn, and possibly full of sexual predators. Because you know, the rest of the world isn’t. In 1996, Congress passed CIPA, the Child Internet Protection Act. It was struck down for being too restrictive, which led to COPA. Why it took 9 years for a court to overturn it, I don’t really understand.
In those 9 years, the internet has grown exponentially. Not only do most parents know how to send an email and scope out MySpace these days, I’m betting a fair number of grandparents do as well. People communicate, shop, play, and even date over the internet. The web has replaced dictionaries, thesauruses, phone books, and any number of other items in our household. I even make a fair portion of my living by writing news and information posts on web sites.
Even if COPA were a good law, I’d hate to think that any law written in 1998 regulating the internet would be put into effect today. But to be honest, I haven’t spent much time thinking about COPA these past few years. In the 90s, it seemed like a real threat to the freedom of the internet. Today it just seems silly.
District Judge Lowell Reed ruled that the children COPA was meant to protect would suffer if First Amendment protections “are chipped away in the name of their protection.” I’m guessing he’s one of those grandparents who knows how to send the occasional email.