Still no decision on closing COPA hearing
PHILADELPHIA — A hearing about whether to block a federal
law aimed at keeping online pornography away from children was
delayed today as lawyers for both sides expressed business-privacy concerns
that may require closing the courtroom.
Several plaintiffs that operate Internet sites, including
ArtNet, Salon magazine, A Different Light bookstore and Free Speech
Media, fear Justice Department witnesses may divulge trade secrets
or other sensitive financial information about their companies
during testimony. Also among the media requesting secret proceedings were
The New York Times, CNET and Ziff-Davis. The American Civil Liberties
Union requested closing the hearing for any such testimony.
“There is a fear among some of these clients that the government is using
this as a means to punish them for assertion of this lawsuit,” said Stefan
Presser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
But Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom
of the Press, called the
news organizations' efforts to close the hearings “supremely ironic.”
“You would think that, since they're trying to carve out First Amendment
territory on the Net, they would not condone or would resist trying to shut
the public out of this debate,” Kirtley said. She said she feared that such
moves were a “signal that traditional and new media are prepared to make
(First Amendment) compromises that they never would have made” in the past,
in order to protect money-making ventures online.
Lawyers for both sides were trying to hammer out a compromise
this afternoon. Meanwhile, several media organizations planned to
fight any move to close the court.
The problems mean the three-day hearing, which was supposed to
end Friday, will extend into next week.
The ACLU is challenging the Child Online Protection Act, which
was signed by President Clinton in October but has never been
enacted. The law would require commercial World Wide Web sites to
collect a credit-card number or some other access code as proof of
age before allowing Internet users to view material deemed
“harmful to minors.”
Violators would face up to six months in jail and a $50,000
In November, U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed temporarily
blocked enforcement of the law. Reed is expected to decide by Feb.
1 whether a more permanent delay should be issued.
Supporters say the law is a sensible way to keep Internet
pornography away from children. Unlike the Communications Decency
Act of 1996, parts of which the Supreme Court struck down on First Amendment
grounds, the new law applies only to commercial sites.
The ACLU contends the law violates the First Amendment and could
be used to target homosexuals, AIDS activists or doctors
distributing gynecological information. The ACLU also claims
mainstream sites may inadvertently be snared in a bill aimed mainly
at pornographic Web sites.
Earlier today, the ACLU completed its case after the
government's cross-examination of Dan Farmer, a computer systems
security expert for EarthLink, an Internet service provider.
Justice Department lawyer Jason Baron tried to contradict
Farmers' testimony yesterday that using credit cards as the law
suggests for proof-of-age identification would be expensive and
unwieldy for Web companies and could pose security risks for