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iAWFUL: the 10 Most Awful Laws for the Internet

Today we published our September 2011 “iAWFUL” list of bad Internet laws.  The worst offenders are new burdens on small businesses using the Internet, plus a Puerto Rico bill restricting how 17-year-olds can use social networking.

Our Internet Advocates’ Watchlist For Ugly Laws (yep, iAWFUL is an acronym) is the 10 items of state and federal legislation that pose the greatest threat to the Internet and e-commerce. This time around our #1 iAWFUL offender is a Congressional bill that would force online sellers to collect sales tax from ALL of the several thousand tax jurisdictions around the country.   Today, all online sellers already collect sales tax for states where they have a physical presence, but this bill mandates collection also for states where they have no physical presence.  It even mandates collection by businesses based in states that have so sales tax of their own.

As we discussed here, the stated aim of this bill is to “level the playing field” between online sellers and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.  But in reality, this bill would impose new and disproportionate collection burdens on exactly the sort of small businesses that lawmakers hope will create jobs in an economic recovery.

#2 on iAWFUL is a bill in Puerto Rico that would require “express consent” of a parent before a 17 year-old can share their interests and activities with friends on a social network.   Worse, the PR bill gives a social network 72 hours to honor a user’s request to purge information about that user — or face a $10,000 fine.  This includes posts by other users, like a photo tag or comment.  So, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez could demand that Facebook remove any info critical of his regime.  Now, that would put a stop to social networks’ newfound power to generate social change and open public debate.

iAWFUL #3 is a new bill just approved by a Congressional committee. HR 1981 would force ISPs to retain evidence of internet use by paying customers, for access by government investigators.  With that kind of privacy threat, this bill ought to be re-numbered — as HR 1984 !

Fortunately, several top threats identified in the March 2011 iAWFUL list were deflected over the summer. Efforts by California to restrict social networks in ways similar to Puerto Rico failed in two Senate votes.    Another high-profile item on the March iAWFUL – Congresswoman Speier’s Do-Not-Track bill — is now marginalized as an extreme way to regulate online advertising.

The latest iAWFUL reveals a troubling trend where lawmakers are actively imposing new taxes and restrictions on the most promising aspects of the Internet.  See for yourself at

The entire September 2011 iAWFUL includes:

  1. Durbin-Conyers Main Street Fairness Act (S. 1452)
  2. Puerto Rico Social Network Restriction Bill (PR HB 3526)
  3. Federal Data Retention Mandate (HR 1981)
  4. State Affiliate Nexus Laws (IL HB 3659, CA Budget)
  5. Federal Do-Not-Track Online (S 913, S 799, HR 654)
  6. Indiana eMail Registry for Minors Bill (IN HB 1418)
  7. Missouri Teacher-Student Social Networking Law (MO SB 54)
  8. Tennessee Emotional Distress Law (TN PC 362)
  9. Massachusetts Anti-Staffing Bill (MA HB 1393)
  10. Digital Goods Taxes