Writing that he "may not turn a blind eye to the law in order to attempt to satisfy my urge to protect this nation's youth by upholding a flawed statute," a federal judge in Philadelphia this morning struck down another of Congress' attempts to restrict pornography on the Internet.

U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. ruled that the 1998 Children's Online Protection Act was ineffective, overly broad, and in violation of First Amendment's free-speech clause because it was not the "least restrictive" way Congress could have tackled the thorny problem of children's access to pornography on a personal computer.

The law, known as COPA, would impose prison time and heavy fines to Internet porn purveyors who do not require adult-access codes, personal identification, or credit cards to access their Web sites.

Opponents of the law argued that most porn sites operate from abroad and would not be affected by the law and that its provisions would put adult users at a greater risk of identity theft.

Reed acknowledged that computer Internet pornography filters "are neither a panacea nor necessarily found to be the ultimate solution to the problem."

But Reed noted that there was "a greater good" in protecting the Constitution.

"Indeed, perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection," Reed added.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said department lawyers were reviewing the 84-page opinion now and "have made not determination what the government's next step will be in this matter."

The case would next be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

Chris Hansen, who argued the case for the American Civil Liberties Union, which led about a half-dozen free-speech and Internet groups in opposing the law, said Reed's ruling documents how "in the years since this case came up the technology has proven ever more clearly that this law is unwise, unconstitutional and ineffective."

The law is the third attempt by Congress since 1996 to restrict pornography and adult content on the Internet. Only one of the three, the 2000 Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires schools and public libraries to install Internet porn filters on computers, was upheld by the Supreme Court.