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Child protection registry under fire

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A registry designed to keep sexually explicit e-mails from reaching children infringes on the First Amendment rights of businesses, their lawyers say.

During a hearing Wednesday in federal court, lawyers for the Free Speech Coalition tried to persuade a judge to block Utah's Child Protection Registry Act from being used. The coalition of marketing groups that include the porn industry argues the CPR Act is too broad, criminalizes non-sexually explicit e-mails and newsletters and runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

"It's not just burning books that the First Amendment is all about," Free Speech Coalition attorney Stephen Rohde said Wednesday, adding that federal anti-spam legislation already deals with the problem.

Lawyers for the state and UnSpam, the computer company administering the registry, disagree.

"What we are talking about is Utah's efforts in giving a tool to parents, so they can protect the sanctity of their home," said assistant Utah Attorney General Thom Roberts.

The U.S. Justice Department has also weighed in on the issue, saying the federal CAN-SPAM Act does not pre-empt Utah's registry.

In 2005, the Utah Child Protection Registry went online at www.kidsregistry.utah.gov. Parents can register the e-mail addresses, instant message names and cell phone numbers of their children on the site, making them off-limits to adult-themed e-mails. The adult industry, alcohol and tobacco companies are required under Utah law to check their e-mail lists against the registry and scrub any e-mails that match. The companies are required to pay a half-cent per e-mail address to do it.

The Free Speech Coalition filed a lawsuit against Utah and UnSpam in November 2005, claiming the requirements are an undue burden on e-marketers. They also claim the law is so vague, it's hard to tell what is and is not acceptable advertising.

"The most effective means is parental control," Rohde said.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said Wednesday he would take the issue under advisement and issue a ruling soon.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com