Friday, March 23, 2007

Good Call

is a good article on a recent First Amendment case. Basically:

A federal judge in Philadelphia yesterday ruled against a 1998 U.S. law that makes it a crime for operators of Internet sites to let anyone under 17 have access to sexual material, rebuffing the government's argument that software filters are ineffective and upholding earlier rulings that the law infringed on free-speech rights.
The crux of Reed's argument is that there is no effective way for a Web site owner to screen out minors, and to avoid risk of criminal penalties, the sites would self-censor. Free speech advocates say that could result in a loss of appropriate and valuable content for adults, including information about safe sex or art galleries with modern photography.

Well done. The article does a pretty good job of explaining the decision's sound reasoning, including this quotation from the judge: "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." I also like the comment by an ACLU lawyer, asking if we would really want "the entire Web [to be] homogeneous and bland so that a 6-year-old could read everything on the Web without anyone objecting." Succinct.

There have always been places which no responsible parent would let their child explore without supervision. Consider a construction site: while the site managers may very well be required to take some reasonable measures to secure their site from mischievous trespassers (and would probably have good economic reasons to do so even were it not required), if a determined kid gets in there and hurts himself, who else but the parents could you reasonably hold responsible? We all know that nothing is truly childproof, even with a far more restrictive definition of child than "anyone under eighteen". Accordingly we don't put the onus of complete protection (an impossibility) on the party who merely supplies the opportunity for harm, because kids should know better than to mess around there in the first place (a [parental] responsilibity). Why, then, should the common sense notion of parental responsibility not apply to virtual areas as well?

It also mentions that about half of the sexually explicit web sites on the net originate overseas, and are thus not subject to this law. So in terms of its ostensible goal of protecting children from pornography (I am tempted to put scare quotes around "protecting," since I and everyone I know have seen scads of porn and have not become raging sociopaths because of it, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that porn is indeed the root ailment of my oh-so-depraved psyche), it is a purely symbolic gesture. However, in terms of its consequences for what is almost certainly our most valuable freedom, that which preserves all the others, it is deeply significant. The hypocrisy of the self-proclaimed champions of the children cynically using the emotional appeal of said children to promote a political agenda is tough to swallow.

One more thing:
Government attorneys are reviewing the decision and have not decided whether to appeal, Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said.

The law was blocked from taking effect in 1998, and a number of courts since then, including the Supreme Court, have upheld the injunction. Reed's ruling comes after a four-week trial last October.

If the courts have spoken on this a number of times then how, and WHY, is it being revisited? The Constitution is going to win this one, guys. I suggest you focus on your parenting, because legal scholars you will never be.

Non sequitur PS: The Republicans pulled a dirty trick to prevent DC from getting a house seat. Taxation without representation!

Update: Back me up, fake person from The Onion.