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Filters will do just fine

Marketplace Staff Mar 22, 2007

This story incorrectly identified Lorrie Cranor as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Cranor is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

KAI RYSSDAL: The Federal Communications Commission revisited something called net neutrality today. It was a big debate last year, you might remember, over whether internet service providers could charge content companies for access to the web. Today, the FCC said it’s going study how broadband providers do business before commissioners make any big decisions.

Meanwhile, the Child Online Protection Act was declared unconsitutional today. The law never went into effect, It’s been tied up in the courts since it passed nine years ago — back at the dawn of the Internet Age. Pat Loeb has more.

PAT LOEB: Judge Lowell Reed expressed his personal regret at having to strike down the Act. However, he wrote, “I may not turn a blind eye to the law to satisfy my urge to protect this nation’s youth.”

The ACLU challenged the Act from the moment it became law in 1998. Attorney Aden Fine says he hopes today’s ruling sends a message to Congress.

ADEN FINE: The past nine years have only made it clearer that government should stop trying to censor the Internet.

Fine says he expects the government to appeal, but a Justice Department spokesman says no decision has been made.

The law would have held websites responsible if a child saw “harmful material” on them. It was aimed at “commercial pornographers,” but Judge Reed ruled it was overly broad. He said Internet filters were less restrictive and possibly more effective.

University of Pittsburgh professor Lorrie Cranor testified in the case.

LORRIE CRANOR: A lot of the material that parents might not want their children to see is not actually coming from the U.S. So even a filter that’s not 100 percent perfect is still going to do better than the law would do.

Today’s ruling could provide a blueprint for future efforts to curb children’s access to offensive websites, according to Internet law expert Michael Froomkin. And he expects Congress will keep trying.

MICHAEL FROOMKIN: It’s my sense that most legislators don’t use the Internet as much as most constituents. And therefore I wonder sometimes if they’re not as concerned about the collateral damage some of these rules make.

Froomkin says if Congress knew as much about the Internet as voters, it might devise a better law.

I’m Pat Loeb For Marketplace.

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