Protecting Kids Online: Why Legislation Fails

Neither software nor legislation is ever a substitute for an involved parent.

The Supreme Courts ruling this week that rejected the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) is the right decision. Of course, we should protect our children from filth on the Internet, but COPA raises a lot of First Amendment issues and could prevent people from reaching legitimate sites. But the biggest reason why COPA should be stopped is simple: It cant possibly work. Technology remains our best chance of blocking inappropriate Web sites and fighting spam.

It seems like the only reason Congress passes laws like COPA is so our senators and representatives can pretend they are doing something to combat Internet pornography. Doing so looks good to their constituents. But Congress had to know even before COPA was approved that it would end up in the courts for years and wouldnt solve the problem. (The law was enacted in 1998, but has never been enforced because of challenges to its constitutionality.)

COPA provides for criminal penalties of up to $50,000 per day for Internet sites that make pornography available to those younger than 17. The Supreme Court ruling sends the case back to the federal district court, with instructions that the government must show why such penalties would be more appropriate than the voluntary use of filtering software. Essentially, the Court said the government must show that criminal penalties were the "least restrictive alternative" to accomplish the goal.

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