Online pornography law appeal denied

A generic picture of a woman typing on a computer keyboard. REUTERS/Catherine Benson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court let stand on Wednesday a ruling that a federal law designed to keep Internet pornography away from children violated constitutional free-speech rights.

The high court rejected a Justice Department appeal defending the law and handed a victory to those who argued that the efforts of Congress to regulate cyberspace by keeping minors away from online pornography infringed on free-speech rights.

The law in question required that website operators use credit cards or adult access codes and personal identification numbers to keep minors from seeing harmful pornography. Violators faced up to six months in prison and fines of as much as $50,000 a day.

It was adopted in 1998 after the Supreme Court struck down on free-speech grounds another law called the Communications Decency Act. The law has never been enforced as lower courts repeatedly have ruled it unconstitutional.

The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court after a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia declared the law unconstitutional for being overly broad and too vague.

The appeals court also ruled the law violates free-speech guarantees under the Constitution’s First Amendment because filtering technologies and other parental control tools offer a less restrictive way to protect children from inappropriate content online.

The law was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, booksellers, online magazine publishers and others. ACLU lawyers said the law criminalizes a large amount of valuable online speech that adults are entitled to communicate and receive.

According to the government’s experts in the case, the law could criminalize as many as 700 million Web pages, they said. The lawyers said the use of content filters would be more effective.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the Justice Department’s appeal without any comment, allowing the appeals court ruling to stand.

Editing by David Wiessler