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Supreme Court upholds anti-obscenity law

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court upheld March 20 a lower court’s opinion that a federal ban on Internet obscenity is constitutional.

The high court affirmed a ruling by a special panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York by issuing a summary disposition without hearing oral arguments in the case -– thus providing a rare victory at the judiciary’s highest level for foes of online indecency and obscenity.

The case, Nitke v. Gonzales, involved photographer Barbara Nitke, whose sexually explicit photos have included sadomasochistic poses. Her work has been published and displayed in galleries, but she also placed it on the Internet.

Nitke and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom challenged the obscenity provision of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that prohibits the distribution of obscenity over the Internet to children less than 18 years of age. The three-judge panel in the Second Circuit unanimously agreed, however, that Nitke and NCSF had failed to show CDA was guilty of “substantial overbreadth.”

In 1997, the Supreme Court struck down the portion of CDA that barred the online transmission of indecent material but maintained the law’s provision on obscenity.

Since that ruling, the high court also has ruled against the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 measure that targeted commercial websites that make sexually explicit material available to minors. In 2002, the justices invalidated portions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act, a 1996 law that barred images that appear to be of children less than 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

The Supreme Court upheld in 2003 the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires public and school libraries that receive government Internet discounts to install filters on their computers to block pornography.

On March 21, the justices also issued a unanimous ruling that had a tangential relation to pornography. The high court ruled an anticipatory search warrant obtained by law enforcement officers does not have to describe the condition that would trigger its use. The justices overturned a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a case that involved the purchase of a videotape that contained child pornography.

The Department of Justice announced March 15 it had charged 27 people for their part in an Internet chat room that traded in child pornography, including “live streaming video of adults sexually molesting children and infants,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said. Those charged were from the United States, Australia, Canada and England.

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