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Great news, you net Libertarians! By a 5-to-4 majority, the US Supreme Court has thrown the 1998 Child Online Protection Act back to the lower courts, arguing that the law would dumb-down public speech on the Internet and force Web publishers to censor themselves — but perhaps technology has changed a bit, so lower courts, please look it over again, okay?

The law required that all websites wanting to display “adult“ content had to do something to verify the age of the Web surfers, such as requiring a credit card. (Although it’s not clear how that would verify age.)

The law, which has never been enforced, imposed a fine of $50,000 and up to 6 months in prison for anyone who knowingly posted content on the Internet for commercial purposes that was “harmful to minors.“

Of course, one thing that is troubling is that the Court once again came out in favor of Internet filtering services. As many people know, these services really don’t work very well. They are overly broad. They filter out things with a political bent. And the filter lists are typically secret. C’est la vie. Filtering software is the useful fiction that we use to get these much more objectionable anti-pornography laws thrown out.
Bloomberg.com has an article, and you’ll find another one on ABC News Online site. The opinion itself can be found at the Court’s website; click on “Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union.“

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