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Utah judge asked to toss out Internet speech law

SALT LAKE CITY — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is asking a federal judge to permanently block a state law that aims to protect children from harmful online material, saying that it restricts Internet speech.

The ACLU, along with a coalition of booksellers, media companies and artists, had sought a permanent injunction in a filing in federal court last year. The groups were set to argue their case that the law is unconstitutional on Thursday.

Passed in 2005, the law altered existing Utah statutes related to speech that could be considered harmful to children, expanding its reach to include Utah-based Internet content providers and Internet service providers doing business within the state, even if they're based elsewhere.

The ALCU and the coalition first sued over the restrictions in 2005, and a temporary injunction issued in 2006 has blocked any enforcement.

The law requires that content providers segregate and label through a ratings system any material that could be considered harmful. The ACLU and its partners contend that could include art, photography, and information about sexual health and gay rights.

As a plaintiff in the lawsuit, the ACLU was concerned about information on its own site about abortion laws, pornography and other material that some would argue is not suitable for minors.

The lawsuit claims that the law fails to differentiate between material that might be appropriate for children of different ages, "thus requiring websites to restrict access by a 17-year-old to material that is entirely appropriate and not 'harmful' to her, but that may be inappropriate and 'harmful' to an 8-year-old."

State prosecutors have argued the law is constitutional and is intended to protect children from harmful material. They also claim the ACLU has no standing to argue the case.