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A federal judge has ruled that a Virginia law aimed at blocking children’s online access to adult material violates First Amendment free speech protections and the constitutional interstate commerce clause. The opinion by U.S. District Judge James H. Michael Jr. marks the latest in a string of defeats for activists trying to apply historical standards for adult material to the Internet. Last year Virginia’s legislature rewrote a 30-year-old law prohibiting the sale or display of depictions of nudity, sexual acts and “sadomasochistic abuse” to include electronic files or messages containing images or words. The law provides for penalties including a fine of up to $2,500 and a year in jail, but no one has been prosecuted under the new language since it took effect in July 1999. A group of Internet businesses and others, including PSINet and People for the American Way, filed suit last year in an Alexandria, Va., federal court. But U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton threw the case out on a technicality last November without ruling on its merits. The plaintiffs then refiled in federal court in Charlottesville, Va. They argued that parental monitoring and the voluntary use of filtering software were better tools than broadly written legislation when it comes to protecting minors from X-rated material. In his opinion, Michael said the added language — aimed squarely at the Internet — was unenforceable. “The 1999 Act provides no way for Internet speakers to prevent their communications from reaching minors without also denying adults access to the material,” Michael wrote. “The Act is also overbroad because it infringes on the rights of adults in communities outside of Virginia.” Civil liberties advocates hailed Michael’s decision as further judicial affirmation that such decency laws cannot be reconciled with the global medium of the Internet. “This is the latest in an unbroken string of decisions that say you can’t reduce everybody on the Internet to [content] that’s suitable for children,” said Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People for the American Way. This week’s decision follows earlier federal court decisions striking down the federal Communications Decency Act and the subsequent Child Online Protection Act, as well as state laws in New York, Michigan and New Mexico. Mincberg said a similar law on the books in Arizona could be challenged soon. Spokesmen for both the Fairfax, Va.-based National Law Center for Children and Families, which supported the law, and for the Virginia attorney general’s office, haven’t returned telephone calls seeking comment. Related articles from The Industry Standard Online Child Porn Act Ruled Unconstitutional Another Anti-Online-Smut Law Bites the Dust So Much Online Porn, So Little Time Copyright (c)2000 The Industry Standard

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