The First Amendment exists as a protection against any law that infringes on freedom of speech. The internet provides a new medium for personal expression and any limitations, excluding criminal activity, violate First Amendment rights. There are many benefits to an open platform where anyone can express their opinion, but the internet also opens the possibility of exposing children to material that could be harmful or obscene. Debate has raged on since the early days of the internet. One side believes laws need to be enacted to provide additional protection to minors and the other argues this impedes upon the First Amendment.
The Child Online Protection Act (COPA) was passed by congress in October 1998, but never enacted due to a series of injunctions following a lawsuit claiming the law violated free speech. COPA was an attempt to ensure children 13 and under are not exposed to material deemed “harmful” or “obscene.” The ACLU was a main opponent to COPA enforcement. ACLU lawyer Ann Beeson explains their position by pointing out that adults have the right to be open about sex and any filtering or requirements for identification violate both free-speech rights and right to privacy. Eventually COPA was completely thrown out and it is unlikely any similar laws will not violate free-speech rights; clearly government intervention is not the answer.
The only solution is for parents to take responsibility. Parents should be monitoring the media their children consume and ensuring they are not exposed to anything the parent considers inappropriate. Clearly a single standard cannot be applied across a community or a country as individuals have differing opinions, and this is especially true of the internet. Families need to develop and enforce a household standard for what is appropriate and acceptable conduct. There are certain issues with familial enforcement including parents who are unaware filtering tools are available as well as kids who understand technology better than their parents and can get past filters. These can be mostly overcome by providing easier access to the education, resources and tools parents need to be empowered.