Sign Up: Free Daily Tech E-letter  
Technology Home
Tech Policy
Government IT
Personal Tech
Special Reports


Primer: Children, The Internet and Pornography


_____Live Online_____
Transcript: Paul M. Smith, lead attorney for the American Library Assn. in the CIPA case, was online to discuss the Supreme Court oral arguments on the case.
_____CIPA Coverage_____
Justice Dept. Seeks High Court Review in 'Net Filtering Case (, Jun 20, 2002)
Libraries Breathe Easy After Court Ruling On Internet Filters (, Jun 3, 2002)
E-Mail This Article
Print This Article
Permission to Republish
Compiled By Robert MacMillan Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; 11:25 AM

Pornography is one of the World Wide Web's most profitable enterprises. It was the first e-commerce sector to post real profits from online transactions and the first to incur the scrutiny of lawmakers eager to set rules for the untamed Internet.

Over the past decade, Congress has made many attempts to regulate porn on the Internet. The result is a bewildering assortment of laws and attempted laws designed to protect children from material that some communities consider unsuitable. The legislative action against pornography has produced a whole series of legal acronyms, from the aforementioned COPA to CIPA, CPPA, CDA -- and two different COPPAs.

Here's what a few of them mean:

COPA: Child Online Protection Act

The law penalizes Web site operators who allow children to view pornography, whether or not it is legally protected free speech. COPA was crafted to apply only to the World Wide Web. It was designed to pass constitutional muster where the CDA failed, but was frozen by a U.S. District Court judge following a legal challenge.

The Supreme Court in June 2002 upheld a part of COPA that says different communities can apply their local standards to what kind of content they deem appropriate, but ordered a lower court to decide whether it violates free-speech rights. On June 28, 2004, it ruled that the law probably does violate those rights, but sent the case back to the lower court to let the government reargue its case in favor of the law.

Highlights: COPA offenders who make "harmful" material available to children can be forced to pay a daily fine of up to $50,000 per violation, and could get up to six months in jail. The federal government also can sue in civil court for up to $50,000 per day and per violation.
Original Sponsors: Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Signed into law: President Clinton, 1998.
Status: The law remains inactive.

CIPA: Children's Internet Protection Act

The law requires public schools and libraries to install Internet filters on their computers so children and adults cannot view "inappropriate" information on the Internet. Schools and libraries that fail to install filters stand to lose federal "E-rate" funding for Internet access and other technological innovations.

The Justice Department contends that CIPA gives local communities the option to set their filtering software at varying levels. Government attorneys also argue that schools and libraries are not required to install the software; instead, they could opt not to accept federal funds. Opponents, including the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that filters are an imperfect tool that will suppress the rights of students and adults to view First Amendment-protected information.
Original Sponsors: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Rep. Bob Franks (R-NJ).
Signed into law: President Clinton, 2000.
Status: Supreme Court upheld the law in a 6-3 decision on June 23, 2003. Case is Docket No. 02-361.

PROTECT: Prosecutorial Remedies and Tools Against the Exploitation of Children Today Act

1 2     Next >
Print This Article Home

© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive

Company Postings: Quick Quotes | Tech Almanac
About | Advertising | Contact | Privacy
My Profile | Rights & Permissions | Subscribe to print edition | Syndication