SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has overturned part of a Utah law intended to make Internet providers responsible for limiting children's access to harmful or pornographic material.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled people cannot be prosecuted for posting adult content on generally accessible websites, and are not required by law to label the content that they post. The ruling does not forbid prosecution of those who send inappropriate images or language directly to children via email, instant message or text.
The law sought to make website operators or content providers liable for any material that the state deems harmful to minors, including works of visual art, photography and graphic novels.
A group of booksellers, artists, Internet service providers and the ACLU of Utah sued the state after the Legislature passed the Harmful to Minors Act in 2005, arguing it violated free speech rights. Benson had blocked enforcement of the law since the lawsuit was filed in 2006.
John Mejia, ACLU of Utah legal director, said the ruling removes the cloud cast over Internet speech that the broadly worded statute created.
The plaintiff lawyers and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff worked out an agreement on how the law would be implemented. It still allows the state's Internet Crimes Against Children task force to seek out online predators.
Benson's order makes clear that only people who intentionally send harmful material to minors or who negligently failed to determine the age of the recipient are subject to prosecution. It also narrowed the mandatory labeling provision in light of advances in Internet filtering software the past seven years.
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