The Greater Good: COPA Blocked

With literally mere hours to go before the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) was to go into effect, a preliminary injunction was handed down by a federal judge on Monday, February 1. The injunction prevents implementation of the law and will remain in effect until the lawsuit filed by the ACLU goes to trial, seeking the law's overturn.

COPA's enactment would require commercial Web sites to install credit card registration systems or other proof-of-age barriers. Violators would be subject to six months in jail and fined up to $50,000.

U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Reed's ruling stated that "the greater good" would be served by barring the enforcement of COPA. Reed ruled, "While the public certainly has an interest in protecting its minors, the public interest is not served by the enforcement of an unconstitutional law. . . . Indeed, perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection."

Reed determined that the implementation of this law would block First Amendment protected online speech by adults. Instead, he states that the use of content filtering software could produce COPA's goal of protecting minors from sexually explicit Web sites.

While Reed seems sympathetic to Congress' motivation in writing the law, he explained, "The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions that we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. . . . Attempts of Congress to serve compelling interests must be narrowly tailored to serve those interests without unnecessarily interfering with First Amendment freedoms. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that the free-speech rights of adults may not be reduced to allow them to read only what is acceptable for children."