Supreme Court Approves Porn for Kids

The Supreme Court has ruled that kids should be able to access pornographic images on the Internet. Or, rather, the fact that a lot of parents don’t supervise their kids does not supersede the rights of adults to access said content.

A long legal drive to shield children from sexually explicit material on the Web ended in failure Wednesday when the Supreme Court let a 10-year-old anti-pornography law die quietly.

In striking down the law on free-speech grounds, the justices said parents could protect their children by installing software filters on their computers. But less than half of parents do so, Bush administration lawyers had argued in an effort to revive the law.

[…]

The Supreme Court had struck down an even broader law passed in 1996 that restricted “indecency” on the Internet. After that ruling in 1997, Congress tried again with a narrow measure that targeted commercial purveyors of pornography on the Web. It was signed into law by President Clinton late in 1998. The Child Online Protection Act made it a crime to put sexually explicit material on a website for commercial gain unless the sponsor used some means, such as requiring a credit card, to keep out minors. It never went into effect.

Judges repeatedly cited free-speech grounds and blocked its enforcement. The Supreme Court in 2004 said the law violated the 1st Amendment because it would crimp the rights of millions of adults. In a 5-4 decision, the justices sent the case back to a lower court in Philadelphia to decide if software filters were effective in screening out sexually explicit material. Last year, the U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia struck down the law as unconstitutional, saying the software filters were “equally effective” as a means of protecting children from online pornography.

[…]

Though free speech remains the rule on the Internet, there is one major exception. The government vigorously prosecutes those who trade online or store on a computer sexually explicit material that portrays children. The Supreme Court has made clear that child pornography is not protected as free speech under the 1st Amendment.

Steven Taylor pretty much captures my view on this:

I do not want my children exposed to pornography, either, but it is my job to make sure that they don’t sit in my living room looking for pictures of nekkid people, not the government’s.

Setting aside the salaciousness of this specific issue, I do think things like this are an excellent example of some of the problems that the Republicans have had for years—they claim to favor small government, a narrow interpretation of the constitutional policy prerogatives of the Congress, and personal responsibility in the citizenry unless, for some reason, they don’t (e.g Terri Schiavo).

And really, anyone who thought the law had a prayer of being an efficacious method to hide all sexually explicit material on the internet simply had no idea what the internet is, or how it works.

It’s true that parents can’t supervise their kids 24/7 and that the Internet is ubiquitous.  But that doesn’t trump the rights of grown-ups.  (Although, I must admit, I’m not sure why 18-year-olds having sex on video constitutes “speech” under the 1st Amendment while drawings of virtual 17-year-olds having sex does not.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    And really, anyone who thought the law had a prayer of being an efficacious method to hide all sexually explicit material on the internet simply had no idea what the internet is, or how it works.

    And that’s the key right there, even if the law has a legal and moral leg to stand on, it was technologically impossible to accomplish what it was supposed to accomplish, and therefore a waste of energy and resources.

  2. caj says:

    This is an example of what Prez Obama has said that parents should be more responsible and turn off T.V’s and know what your child is doing.
    Parents that are responsible can put blocks on certain program’s and with the internet it does come with a bigger problem, but some parents use that as a form of babysitting tool and therefore don’t know what their child is looking at and in some cases don’t care as long as the child is not bothering them.

  3. just me says:

    It isn’t easy to control internet content for kids, although as long as a kid doesn’t know how to work around it, technology is getting better than it was several years ago. I think the problem is that kids/teens often understand and know how to work their way on the net than their parents do. I do like the way the parental controls on our computer work, but even those aren’t a substitute for supervision. I think in the end the best way as a parent to protect my kids is to limit when they can access he internet and putting the computer someplace where anyone walking by can see what is on the screen.

    I am a strong believer in TV’s not belonging in children’s rooms and to date I feel the same way about computers-at least computers with internet access.

    I actually think the goal of the law is a worthy one, I just don’t see how it could be enforced. And to be honest most kids determined to access inapproriate material would probably figure out how to game this kind of system.

    The best control of content kids access is the parent, and sadly, while I would love for every parent to be vigilant I just don’t think it is the government’s duty to parent kids whose parents choose not to parent.

  4. Michael says:

    It isn’t easy to control internet content for kids

    Restricting it is easy, just unplug the network cable. Allowing only a subset of it that is deemed acceptable to children is the difficult part.

    I think in the end the best way as a parent to protect my kids is to limit when they can access he internet and putting the computer someplace where anyone walking by can see what is on the screen.

    That’s it exactly, don’t expect a piece of software to replace your physical presence.