The federal government is attempting to revive a law written to protect children from online pornography. The problem is, the law was written in 1998.
Government lawyers tried Tuesday to revive a 1998 law designed to keep online pornography from children, amid questions that it is significantly outdated and blocks too much legal speech while having no effect on content posted from overseas.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit judges hearing the case questioned the law’s effectiveness, given estimates that half of all online porn is posted overseas, beyond the reach of U.S. law.
Free speech groups say the Child Online Protection Act misses the mark today, because it does not cover chat rooms, You Tube and other interactive sites that emerged in the last decade.
The original legislation is here.
Besides the idea of pushing a ten year old law as an effective regulator of modern technology (ten years ago,
a CD-ROM on a computer was a big deal, hard drives were pushing into the gargantuan one gigabyte of information range, and the idea of watching video online was a full-day endeavor), there’s the problematic unconstitutionality of it all. The major motivation for the conservative ban-it-all crowd comes from what they perceive to be the primary function of the First Amendment – preserving their inviolable right to believe that certain things might steal their precious bodily juices through their all-too-exposed orifices, and fighting tooth and nail to make sure that those things are destroyed under the righteous jackboot of freedom and justice. Well, freedom and justice except for the things being banned.
The genesis of the first amendment, as it actually happened went something like this: oppression over there, freedom over here, take your first amendment and wave it everywhere.
The genesis of the first amendment in the eyes of these ban-happy folks: scary people want to do bad things to Jesus. Let’s stop them, guys!
Inevitably, this leads to laws which have the benefit of being long on draconian measures to ensure the safety of our children and families from the dread scourge of nipples, and short on any comprehension of how they might view those nipples or which nipples are dangerous and which nipples are protected by our right to view consenting adult nipples any time the nipple urge strikes us.
The most frustrating part of all this is the fact that the banners tend to have some correct instincts – there are limits on free speech when that speech is threatening to others, and inherent to the First Amendment is the idea that you also have the reasonable ability to avoid the speech you don’t want to encounter. (You can’t stop someone from writing a book you find distasteful, but they can’t make you read it, either.) The problem tends to come with their inability to realize that just because they feel threatened by something, and manufacture bogus study after bogus study and recovering “addict” after recovering “addict” to prove its deleterious effect on society, they don’t get to jump right to the banning and destruction of their object of hate.
(It would also be helpful if these people ever understood How Things Work, but that would involve potentially opening up the Porn Tube, which inevitably leads to a lifetime of peeping-tomism and smuggling old issues of Penthouse into fourth-grade afterschool programs.)