Not with a bang, but with a whimper: the Supreme Court of the United States has quietly put an end to the controversial Child Online Protection Act (COPA) by refusing to hear a government appeal of a ruling banning its enforcement. The act was passed with overwhelming support of Congress in 1998, and sought to ban Web sites from making “harmful” content available to minors. COPA has been embroiled in controversy ever since on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the law would criminalize legitimate, protected forms of free speech.
The Supreme Court offered no comment on its refusal to hear the appeal.
“The Court’s decision not to review COPA for a third time affirms what we have been saying all along—the government has no right to censor protected speech on the Internet, and it cannot reduce adults to hearing and seeing only speech that the government considers suitable for children,” said ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro, in a statement.
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia had ruled earlier that COPA violated the First Amendment, and that filtering technologies and parental controls built into operating systems and browsers were a more appropriate, less restrictive way to protect children from potentially inappropriate or harmful online content.
The Bush administration had been fighting to have COPA brought into effect, and in 2006 the Justice Department subpoenas search records from the likes of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others in an attempt to gather evidence of the prevalence of material harmful to minors on the Internet. Only Google challenged the subpoenas, citing the privacy of its users. The DOJ eventually presented a conclusion that about one percent of Web sites index by leading search engines were sexually explicit.