RIP COPA

I half-did this post yesterday, when it was all fresh and new, but didn’t get it finished and a long day (finished off with attending the live broadcast of Any Questions? in the National Gallery) means that I’m only getting back to it now. But the news is still interesting; the Pennsylvania court that’s been dealing with the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) (being for the Eastern District, it has the unfortunate web address of paed.uscourts.gov – wonder if that gets past filters??) has handed down a detailed opinion, after a lengthy trial. (You remember that COPA had an interim injunction, two trips to the Supreme Court, and a partridge in a pear tree. This injunction is ‘permanent’ (although likely to be appealed?)

The first report that I saw came from the always on-the-ball Susan Crawford, and of course there’s lots on Slashdot. Lawrence Lessig has a thoughtful presentation on a related topic. The New York Times quotes Lessig’s own warning on the role of filters in a short article.

The full opinion is here (PDF). It’s interesting, but I’m still not comfortable with the idea of the primary argument against Government regulation of speech being ‘filters would do a better job’. However, the judge does accept some good points on other approaches, such as the privacy implications of a requirement to log in (part III, para 172), and finds the statute vague, overbroad and not narrowly tailored (as well as the finding on ‘least restrictive’ that is obsessed with filtering!). Although the issue isn’t fully reached, there are some interesting half-conclusions on geo-ID; the ‘AOL problem’ is noted (everyone using AOL appears to be in one of two places (east or west!) when geo-ID is applied) and the lack of precision (for legal certainty) is a major factor. (The legendary Matthew Zook is the Internet-geography expert for the plaintiffs!) On the whole, though, there’s not all that much by way of ‘new law’ in relation to technology or the ‘status’ of the Internet. It is, after all, a ten-year-old law and a case that has been through the system twice over.

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