Third Circuit Agrees Again: Internet Censorship Law Unconstitutional


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In Response to Supreme Court Ruling, Third Circuit Strengthens Finding that COPA Violates Free Speech

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled again on March 6 that the “Child Online Protection Act” (COPA) was a violation of the First Amendment rights of businesses and individuals to send and receive valuable information. The law, Congress’ second attempt to censor Internet content, was previously enjoined by a district court and the Third Circuit. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Third Circuit after reviewing one narrow issue. In this latest ruling, the Third Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction against the law — this time on several different free speech grounds.

“We are pleased that the Third Circuit has once again seen the threat to free speech presented by the Child Online Protection Act,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “Adults should not be restricted to the electronic equivalent of a child’s sandbox.”

COPA sought to criminalize the display for a commercial purpose of Internet content which prosecutors might deem “harmful to minors.” In a brief submitted after the U.S. Supreme Court sent the suit back to the Third Circuit — and in earlier writings on the case — People For the American Way Foundation and other groups emphasized that the law should be found unconstitutional on several grounds, including the following two which were adopted by the Third Circuit in its ruling. First, COPA could effectively reduce adults to reading material fit only for minors. Second, parents and families have other alternatives to control their children’s access to undesirable Internet content, and those alternatives are more flexible and can be matched to each family’s values and circumstances.

“COPA, like the Communications Decency Act before it, is a ham-fisted attempt to interfere with the job of parents and families,” said Neas. “Parental and user education, not censorship, is the answer to addressing legitimate concerns about troubling Internet content.”

It is expected that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft will appeal the ruling in this case, ACLU v. Ashcroft, sending the matter back to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is now considering another First Amendment case involving the Internet; in that case, People For the American Way Foundation is co-counsel in a suit brought by the American Library Association, other library associations, and library patrons challenging a federal law that would require public libraries to install filtering software on all computers as a condition of receiving federal funding.