Citation: Reno v. ACLU 117 S.Ct. 2329. 1997. Cornell Law School. 4 April 2009. <ttp://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-511.ZO.html>.
This source is a Supreme Court decision that curtailed the federal government's ability to prohibit that could be harmful for children. The laws in question were provisions of section 223 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that prohibit knowingly transmitting "indecent" and "patently offensive" material on the Web to minors. The Supreme Court ruled that these provisions were unconstitutional, and upheld the ruling of a lower court, because they violated the first and fifth amendments of the Constitution. The court believed the terms "indecent" and "patently offensive" were too broad, and could restrict content that is actually not harmful. Additionally, the provisions were struck down because the court felt there was no good way to specifically target and identify Internet users under the age of 18, making this law difficult to violate or enforce. The portions of the law that prohibited knowingly transmitting obscene materials and child pornography to minors were upheld, because obscene content warrants less free-speech protection than indecent content. In the decision, written by Justice Stevens and agreed to by a large majority of the justices, there was also an overview of the history of the Internet and an explanation as to why cases upholding government laws monitoring commercial interests to protect children did not apply to this case.
Reno v. ACLU relates to my paper because it is a court case imporatnt to the ongoing battle to determine how best to protect children from harmful content online. If free speech bars the government from protecting children from certain types of potentially harmful content, then government regulation is not going to be the only solution needed to help shield children. However, since the government can pass laws regulating obscenity and child pornography, this case does demonstrate that there is a place where government regulation could potentially be helpful and useful. Stevens' decision would support my thesis, because the difficulty he acknowledges in detecting the age of Internet users makes it difficult for any organization to properly filter content. In order for children to be protected from some content, there will need to be intrinsic motivation for indecent websites to self-regulate and to try not to reach children.