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Judge may dismiss porn-law challenge

Shurtleff says parties in case can’t prove significant damages

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Eleven of the 15 plaintiffs challenging a law passed this year to protect children from Internet pornography may no longer have a case if the Utah attorney general wins a dismissal that was filed Tuesday.

Mark Shurtleff is asking a judge to dismiss the parties because they can't prove significant damages based on the law that was passed during the 2005 Legislature.

Several bookstores, local artists, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, various Internet service providers and others filed the original lawsuit against the state in June, attempting to prevent anti-pornography enforcement by the new law.

The law, which Shurtleff calls "The Truth in Porn Law," requires Internet providers to "truthfully identify material that is harmful to minors," he said. "However, it doesn't restrict anyone's access to the Internet unless they request it."

House Bill 260 requires Internet providers to make a filtering system available by January 2006, which consumers can activate if they choose. By May 1, 2006, Utah-based Internet content providers will also be required to identify adult material according to regulations prepared by the state. On the same date, the law requires the Attorney General's Office to prepare a list of "adult content" Web sites that consumers can ask their Internet provider to block.

The law is intended to offer consumers viable protection in the form of an optional filtering system, not one that would be forced upon every user. The requirements would have no effect on Internet users who choose not to block any sites.

Shurtleff said HB 260 differs from federal law and other state laws, some of which have been found to be unconstitutional, in that the consumer, not the government, decides whether a site is blocked.

The law would apply the "harmful to minors" standard to the Internet, a standard that has been used for books, magazines, art and movies for nearly 30 years. It is also only directed at Internet service providers doing business in Utah and Utah-based Internet content providers that post material which may be harmful to minors.

Those involved in the lawsuit claim the law violates constitutional rights and could inaccurately put them on the registry with content that is constitutionally approved for adults.

In Tuesday's response, the state mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the "harmful to minors" standard and cites a report to Congress that "server-based" filters are the most effective way to keep children from gaining harmful material on the Internet.

"Why would the ACLU want to stop parents from protecting their children from Internet pornography," said Jerrold Jensen, assistant attorney general representing the state in the lawsuit. "We have 'adult only' sections in magazine stores. Why should the Internet be different?"


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com