Internet

State Net porn law in dispute

A New Mexico law making it a crime to send minors sexually explicit material over the Net will not go into effect on July 1 as planned.

A New Mexico law making it a crime to send minors sexually explicit material over the Net will not go into effect on July 1 as planned, a judge ruled today.

Handing a first-round victory to the American Civil Liberties Union, federal Judge LeRoy Hansen temporarily halted enforcement of the law.

The group sued in April to overturn the law on grounds that it unconstitutionally inhibits adults' and teenagers' online speech in the interest of protecting children from Web sites, chat rooms, or email that contain adult language, nudity, or pornography.

The judge didn't grant New Mexico's request to dismiss the case.

Republican Sen. Stuart Ingle introduced the state legislation that makes it a misdemeanor to use a computer to knowingly disseminate to those under age 18 material that "in whole or in part depicts actual or simulated nudity, sexual intercourse, or any other sexual conduct." Violators could face up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Free speech advocates contend that the trouble with such laws is that the broad terms "harmful," "indecent," or "obscene" could apply to Web sites about safe sex, gay and lesbian issues, or anatomy. Moreover, on the Net it can be impossible to know who is on the receiving end of data transmissions, the ACLU argues.

The 20 plaintiffs in the case include Feminist.com, Full Circle Books, OBGYN.net, Santa Fe Online, the Association of American Publishers, the Sexual Health Institute, and the New Mexico Library Association.

The plaintiffs charge that the law violates the First Amendment, citing the Supreme Court's decision to throw out the Communications Decency Act, which made it a felony to use the Net to show or send "indecent" content to those under age 18.

In addition to the CDA ruling, the ACLU will rely on another federal decision it helped to win: the American Library Association vs. (New York Gov.) George Pataki. Last June, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled that New York's CDA-like law was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Constitution's commerce clause, which forbids one state from regulating another state's commercial activity.

In February, the ACLU won its lawsuit against a two-year-old Virginia law that prohibited state employees from using the Net to view sexually explicit material. U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in favor of the ACLU and six college professors, stating that the 1996 law violated the First Amendment by restricting access to online literature, history, philosophy, or medical information.