FC: House votes 413 to 8, once again, to restrict "morphed" child porn

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Wed Jun 26 2002 - 11:01:35 PDT

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    The vote:
    The bill:
    Latest text:
    Politech archive:
       House passes ban on "morphed" erotica
       By Declan McCullagh 
       Staff Writer, CNET News.com
       June 25, 2002, 10:10 PM PT
       WASHINGTON--The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly
       Tuesday to restrict computer-generated sex images of minors.
       The 413-to-8 vote aims to circumvent a recent Supreme Court decision
       that nixed an earlier ban on "morphed" erotica. A similar proposal has
       been introduced in the Senate. With the enthusiastic backing of both
       Democrats and Republicans, final passage of a bill this year is all
       but certain.
       "This bill closes the door left open by the recent Supreme Court
       decision," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said at a press conference
       Tuesday. "I urge the Senate to take action immediately."
       Law enforcement considers restrictions on computer-generated images a
       key tool in fighting child pornography, backing that has made the
       issue an easy sell in Washington despite lingering constitutional
       concerns. Congress has moved swiftly to pass replacement legislation
       after the high court struck down the previous law on April 16 on First
       Amendment grounds.
       Immediately after the court's decision, politicians from both major
       parties pledged to try again.
       That afternoon, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and one-time
       Mormon bishop, vowed to "craft new legislation." Attorney General John
       Aschroft held a press conference two weeks later to lend the Bush
       administration's support to the letter to Congress offering tips on
       how to craft a law that would survive Supreme Court scrutiny.
       Ashcroft said in a statement Tuesday evening that the bill "will
       strengthen the ability of law enforcement to protect children from
       abuse and exploitation. I urge the Senate to bring this important
       legislation to the floor as soon as possible."
       The new bill includes relatively minor changes to the 1996 version of
       the law, known as the Child Pornography Prevention Act. That
       legislation had prohibited any image that "appears to be" a minor.
       By contrast, the new Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act
       (COPPA) refers to any computer-generated image that is "virtually
       indistinguishable from that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit
       Supporters of the new legislation claim it has been carefully crafted
       to pass constitutional muster. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California
       Democrat, said COPPA had been written "as narrowly as possible" to
       avoid running afoul of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of
       But some legal scholars said they are dubious about whether the
       changes will be sufficient to survive an expected legal challenge,
       once the bill becomes law.
       "I don't understand why they think this statute is going to eradicate
       any of the problems that the Supreme Court explicitly delineated in
       its recent decision," said Megan Gray, a lawyer at the Electronic
       Privacy Information Center who specializes in free speech law.
       The courts have repeatedly turned back attempts to limit digital
       pornography, striking down laws aimed at curtailing publication of
       smut on the Internet and requiring public libraries to filter Internet
       In their April ruling, a 6-3 majority of the justices wrote that
       Congress' first try at banning "morphed" porn was akin to prohibiting
       dirty thoughts.
       "First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks
       to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end,"
       Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The right to think is
       the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the
       government because speech is the beginning of thought."
       Prosecutors argue that the COPPA bill is needed, since otherwise it is
       too difficult to prove that an actual child was involved in the
       production of an electronic image on, say, a seized hard drive.
       But foes of COPPA in the House Judiciary Committee called the measure
       "a hasty attempt drafted by the Department of Justice to override the
       United States Supreme Court's decision," which is "fatally flawed."
       Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the committee, voted
       against COPPA on Tuesday. The only Republican to vote against COPPA
       was libertarian firebrand Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
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