The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday again refused to resurrect a federal law that required Web sites containing material harmful to minors to implement age-based access restrictions, the last-ditch defense of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).
The Bush administration was a strong supporter of the law and the Justice Department led the fight in court to revive it.
COPA provides for up to six months in jail, in addition to civil penalties, for those found guilty of posting information online for commercial purposes that's considered harmful to minors.
Harmful material, as defined by the bill, includes obscene communications, the depiction of sexual material that could be considered offensive, or material that lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
The Child Online Protection Act has been the subject of court battles since Congress enacted it in 1998, and it has never taken effect.
Some judges have called the controversy an agonizing conflict between the cherished right of free speech and society's duty to watch over children, many of whom grow up as familiar with computers as earlier generations of children were with coloring books.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the law in Philadelphia.
ACLU staff attorney Chris Hansen said in a statement on Wednesday For over a decade the government has been trying to thwart freedom of speech on the Internet, and for years the courts have been finding the attempts unconstitutional
It is not the role of the government to decide what people can see and do on the Internet. Those are personal decisions that should be made by individuals and their families. Hansen added seeing the prohibition was so broad.
Philadelphia's federal appeal court stated that the law would violate the First Amendment because there are far less intrusive ways to filter internet content.
According to government experts involved in the case, the law could criminalize as many as 700 million Web pages, they said. The lawyers said the use of content filters would be more effective.