Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The New York Times > Sex and the Supreme Court: Internet Filters Are: [Good] [Bad] [Both]

The New York Times > Week in Review > Sex and the Supreme Court: Internet Filters Are: [Good] [Bad] [Both]:
"ON the surface, the fight over Internet pornography can seem upside down and backward.

In a case decided by the Supreme Court last week, the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that Internet filters are a great way to protect children from pornographic material online. But in a case decided by the Supreme Court last year, the A.C.L.U. argued against a law requiring filters in schools and libraries, and the organization attacked filters in a 1997 paper that said 'rating and blocking proposals may torch free speech on the Internet.'"

The Department of Justice appears to be in the same bind, but in reverse: in this year's case, it argued that filters were not enough to protect children from pornography, while in the library filtering case decided last year, they argued that filters are an effective means of protecting the nation's youth.

The apparent inconsistencies came into focus when the Supreme Court - one player in the online pornography wars that has maintained a consistent stance on filters - handed down its decision in the A.C.L.U.'s challenge to the Child Online Protection Act. That law, which was enacted in 1998, would impose tough criminal penalties on individuals whose Web sites carried material deemed "harmful to minors."

The court sent the case back to the district courts to gather more facts about how filtering technology has changed since the case was first heard, and left in place an injunction blocking enforcement of the law. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in the majority opinion, wrote approvingly of the increasing abilities of Internet filters to let in useful bits of data and keep out the naughty ones.

The court showed a similar acceptance of the prowess of filters in last year's case when it supported another law, the Children's Internet Protection Act, with its requirements of filters for almost all schools and libraries. The sticking point for civil libertarians - that adults might not be able to gain access to sites that they are legally entitled to see - was not a big problem, the court said, since the law held that adult patrons could ask that the filters be turned off.

But things aren't that simple, said Ann Beeson, who argued this year's case for the A.C.L.U. The central issue, she said is whose finger is on the mouse, the government's or the parent's.

"When a parent installs a filter that keeps a kid from seeing a bunch of sites that may or may not be pornography, that's parenting," she said. "When a government forces all adults and minors to use filters, that's censorship." So it makes sense that the A.C.L.U. would oppose filter requirements in libraries last year, and sing the praises of filters in this year's case.

con·cept: The New York Times > Sex and the Supreme Court: Internet Filters Are: [Good] [Bad] [Both]