Trade group releases new list of 'awful' Internet laws

WASHINGTON (08/18/2009) - A Maine law that would require e-commerce vendors to get parental permission before collecting any personal information about teens and children is so broad that it could lead to lawsuits against vendors of many Internet services, according to the NetChoice trade group.

The Maine law, which goes into effect Sept. 12, could prevent any e-commerce sites, including those selling class rings and college test prep services, from collecting any personal information from minors without "verifiable parental consent," NetChoice said as it released a new list of "awful" Internet laws and legislation.

The law would effectively stop e-commerce sites from selling to teens and minors, with Web sites generally having no way to get parental consent, said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group representing Yahoo, eBay, VeriSign and other Internet-related businesses.

The Internet is "increasingly under attack" by lawmakers and regulators, many of whom want to increase revenue by taxing Internet services, he said.

The Maine legislation started as a way to protect minors from having their health information collected without parental consent, DelBianco said. But the law now says it's illegal for anyone to "knowingly collect or receive health-related information or personal information" for marketing purposes from a minor without getting parental consent. The law includes a minor's name and address as personal information that cannot be collected without parental consent

In addition, the law allows private lawsuits against e-commerce sites that do not get parental consent. There's some question about whether the Maine attorney general's office will actively enforce the law, but there's no way to stop private lawsuits, DelBianco added. "This is a major concern for Internet companies that have some teens from Maine using their sites," he said.

NetChoice is working with companies trying to get an injunction against the Maine law going into effect, DelBianco said.

Maine State Senator Elizabeth Schneider, a Penobscot County Democrat and a sponsor of the Maine law, didn't immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills didn't have an immediate comment on the law's inclusion on the NetChoice iAWFUL (the Internet Advocates' Watchlist for Ugly Laws) list.

NetChoice released its first iAWFUL list in June, but the Maine law was introduced and passed since then. "State regulators and legislatures don't take a long enough summer vacation," DelBianco said.

Also among the items new to this second version of the list:

-- An ordinance in New York City that would tax service fees charged by online travel-booking sites and travel agents, in addition to taxing hotel rooms. The additional tax would force online travel-booking sites to collect taxes for the first time, DelBianco said. Other jurisdictions are considering similar taxes. "This would drag these online travel services into the business of filing tax returns in every city where they book a room," he said.

-- The revenue departments in the states of Colorado and Washington have recently ruled that delivery of online goods can be taxed. In Colorado, sites that charge users to download documents could have that service taxed, and in Washington, a wide range of digital goods could be taxed, including advertising, according to NetChoice.

Insider: How the basic tech behind the Internet works
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies