Last week the United States District Court for the District of Utah, overturned a portion of Utah Code §§ 76-10-1206 and 76-10-1233, according to Jurist.com. The laws sought to regulate electronic information and materials that were potentially harmful to minors.
The Utah statutes were originally passed back in 2005. Yet, almost immediately after their passage, the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU') of Utah challenged the statutes as constitutionally overbroad and in violation of the First Amendment.
Federal District Court Judge Dee Benson agreed with the ACLU's reading of the statute as the judge determined that the First Amendment precluded prosecution under § 1206 for simply posting material harmful to minors on a generally accessible website.
Benson's decision limits the application of the law. Under this limited approach, a person cannot be prosecuted under § 1206 unless that person directs harmful material to a specific minor recipient either intentionally or knowingly, or negligently by not first determining whether or not the recipient is a minor.
This means that those posting electronic materials may only be prosecuted if they send inappropriate images or materials directly to a minor through email, text messaging, or instant messaging.
Benson additionally ordered that no one be prosecuted under § 1233, which requires that Internet service providers restrict minors' access to harmful materials, as long as the content uses words or images that can be picked up by reasonably priced commercially available software that can screen and block access to such materials.
Benson's ruling does not affect posting material that constitutes child pornography, "the production, possession, possession with intent to distribute, [or] distribution" of which the United States Supreme Court has determined is undeserving of protection under the First Amendment and is also prohibited by Utah state law.
Finally, the judge ordered that the state of Utah must pay the ACLU's legal fees as well as the fees of the other groups that challenged the laws.
Here, the Utah legislature went a step too far in trying to protect minors from accessing what they call potentially harmful electronic materials. There is no indication as of now whether the state will appeal the judge's holding and take this case to the Circuit Court.
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