Yesterday, CDT joined Media Coalition, the ACLU of Utah, and a coalition of booksellers and artists in asking the federal district court in Utah to permanently enjoin a Utah law that would ban certain types of constitutionally protected speech online. Though the law was enacted in 2005 (see CDT's 2005 Policy Post regarding the law), enforcement of it has been suspended over the past six years, and the Utah legislature has partially repealed or amended some of its provisions. The remaining provisions, however, are still problematic: They seek to limit children’s access to online content deemed “harmful to minors” but would in fact place significant burdens on adults’ own constitutionally protected access to lawful material.
The Utah law threatens criminal penalties for anyone who makes content that is “harmful to minors” available to minors over the Internet. “Harmful to minors” is a somewhat nebulous legal standard that judges the age-appropriateness of content in part by reference to “community standards;" determining which community’s standards apply to online content is a murky question, so content providers have no clear way of knowing whether any of their material might be considered “harmful” to minors. Because website operators and other online speakers have no reliable way to block access to their content by minors, or by users located in Utah, speakers across the country would be faced with the choice of censoring their speech or risking criminal charges in Utah.