Citation: "Children's Internet Protection Act." 2000. Internet Free Expression Alliance. 4 April 2009. <http://ifea.net/cipa.pdf>.
The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a law passed by Congress that encourages filtering the Internet to protect minors by giving schools and libraries financial incentives to do so. Throughout the text, the legislation defines terminology used in the remainder of the document. It states that schools and libraries cannot use federal funds to buy computers or aid Internet access unless they have policies and softwares in place designed to filter visuals on the Internet that contain obscenity, child pornography and material harmful to minors. There is also discussion of how the government plans to implement the law in schools and libraries and how groups can waive this requirement. An exception to the filtering rule is also provided; schools can disable filtering softwares for research purposes. The law concludes by discussing how schools and libraries need to document and enforce the policies outlined in CIPA, and what the legal ramifications for the schools and libraries are if they do not enforce the policies.
CIPA is relevant to my paper because it demonstrates how the government can constitutionally play a role in protecting children online and it shows governmental support for self-regulation. CIPA, unlike parts of the CDA and COPA, has been ruled to be Constitutional and not in violation of the first amendment, because Congress is providing incentives for schools and libraries to regulate content on their own computers, rather than requiring regulation. Congress seemed to take the Supreme Court’s ruling concerning the CDA into consideration when drafting CIPA, because the law allows filtering of obscene and pornographic material but not indecent material. Encouraging communities to enact regulations protecting children themselves is also a better strategy than governmental regulation because it allows communities to better apply their own standards regarding what is obscene and harmful to minors. The government’s established definitions of obscenity and harm to minors involve applying community standards, so this law does a good job of following past legislative precedents, giving the law even greater validity.
Citation: Ashcroft v. ACLU 542 U.S. 656. 2004. Cornell Law School. 4 April 2009. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-218.ZS.html>.
This document is a Supreme Court decision that ruled the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) unconstitutional. COPA, a law passed by Congress, established a $50,000 fine and six months in prison for knowingly posting content online for commercial purposes that is harmful to minors. A person could avoid conviction for posting such content by making a concerted effort to have prevented minors from having access to the content. The justices ruled that COPA was unconstitutional because it restricted some speech protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution. The definition of content harmful to minors is broader than the definition of obscenity, which is the type of speech not protected by the first amendment. In the decision, Justice Kennedy also wrote that there were probably more effective alternatives to govermental regulation, such as encouraging parents to use filtering software. According to the majority opinion, the government is only allowed to restrict free speech as much as it is absolutely necessary to achieve its desired goal, and there was no proof that free-speech had to have been curtailed as much as it was in COPA in order to protect children.
Ashcroft v. ACLU is important because it helped to define the legal restrictions on governmental regulation of Internet content for purposes of protecting children. This case is similar to Reno v. ACLU in that laws were struck down on first amendment grounds because they restricted types of protected speech. Congress tried to fix the mistakes it made with the CDA by having COPA apply to material harmful to minors, rather than to indecent material. However, the Supreme Court still thought that content harmful to minors was too broad a terminology using a strict scrutiny approach to the law. The court case is also relevant to my paper because it explains how the government could legally help regulate Internet content. By suggesting Congress protect children from potentially threatening content by promoting use of filtering software, Kennedy is essentially laying out for Congress what he believes to be the most constitutionally acceptable method of governmental online content-regulation. Note that by promoting filtering, the government would be indirectly involved with regulation, implying the government cannot fix the problem of youth exposure to harmful content alone.