Last week, CDT General Counsel and First Amendment expert John Morris took readers' questions for Ask CDT: First Amendment Rights Online. See readers' questions and John's answers below.
Question: Free speech online is a compromise, isn't it? I believe CDT was even a party to this compromise. I'm talking about COPPA. COPPA restricts the free speech rights of anyone 12-years of age and under. Now, unless you're reading a different Constitution than I am, I don't see where 12-year-olds have any LESS free expression rights than anyone else. But under COPPA, their rights are restricted. Can CDT defend that age restriction on constitutional grounds?
John Morris: Minors – even those under 13 – absolutely have constitutional rights, but as with other rights, those rights sometimes may need to be balanced against other concerns, such as a parent’s right to raise his or her child. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) restricts the ability of website operators to collect personal information from children 12 and under, and its effect has been that the majority of interactive websites prohibit younger minors from registering for or posting on these sites, thus limiting children's opportunities for free speech online. This restriction on these younger minors’ access to speech has never been challenged in court, and it is possible that such a challenge could be successful in at least some contexts.
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