NetChoice’s iAWFUL identifies measures that threaten online communities and e-commerce

WASHINGTON – A Maine law that would severely impact online communities and e-commerce Web sites has taken over the top spot on iAWFUL (The Internet Advocates’ Watchlist for Ugly Laws), which tracks the worst proposed Internet laws in America.

The Maine law imposes severe limitations on all Web sites that serve teenagers. At the very end of its session, the Maine legislature voted to require Web sites to obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting personal information from teens. Lawmakers approved the measure despite the fact that Web sites have no means to confirm such consent, and would be effectively forced to stop providing valuable services like college information, test prep services, and class rings.

Four other new measures also debuted in the iAWFUL Top 10 in the first update of the list since its June launch.

“The Internet is increasingly under attack as lawmakers seek to mandate technological behaviors, impose new taxes and otherwise restrict the free flow of information and commerce online,” said Steve DelBianco, Executive Director of NetChoice, which maintains iAWFUL. “While we were pleased to see some measures fall off the iAWFUL list, thanks to the efforts of Internet advocates, new attacks on innovation and online freedom have arisen to take their place.”

Launched in June, iAWFUL identifies America’s 10 worst legislative and regulatory proposals targeted at the Internet. The iAWFUL Web site (http://www.iAWFUL.com) urges Internet users to join the fight to fix or fight against bills that threaten the future of online commerce and communication. The list is regularly updated to reflect the most immediate dangers, based on regulatory severity and likelihood of passage.

Coming in at the number two spot on iAWFUL is a city ordinance that would slam Internet users with an unfair extra tax on hotel rooms. Scheduled to take effect in September, the new tax is aimed squarely at consumers who use the Internet to bargain hunt for expensive NYC hotel rooms. New York, like many cities, wants to impose its double-digit “occupancy tax” on the service fees added by online travel companies. The unfairness of the proposal — coupled with its potential for wider adoption outside of New York – makes this among the very worst on the iAWFUL list.

Also making debuts on iAWFUL are new taxes on digital downloads in Colorado and Washington; a bill that would restrict Internet advertising in Massachusetts; and a North Carolina bill that would cripple commission-based online advertising.

On the bright side, several measures were removed from iAWFUL, thanks in no small part to the work of NetChoice and other Internet advocates.  The most notable among these was a California bill that threatened to stifle free speech by imposing tight restrictions on social networking sites. Although the bill came in at #2 on the most recent iAWFUL, it’s sponsor worked with Internet advocates to address the key concerns with the measure.

“We’ve demonstrated that when we work together, Internet advocates can help to shape a policy framework that supports innovation, free speech and e-commerce,” DelBianco said. “We must stay vigilant to defend the Internet against misguided efforts to restrict its potential for innovation and information.” 

iAWFUL Revealed

The full iAWFUL list, complete with bill descriptions is available at http://www.iAWFUL.com. Twitter users can follow iAWFUL developments on the NetChoice feed (@NetChoice). Expanded information is also available on the NetChoice blog at http://blog.netchoice.org The current iAWFUL list is:

1) Maine Predatory Marketing Law (New to iAWFUL)

2) Hotel Taxes on Online Travel Companies – (New to iAWFUL)

3) New Jersey Social Networking Bill – A 3757 (Formerly #1)

4) Digital Download Taxes in Colorado and Washington (New to iAWFUL)

5) North Carolina Digital Downloads Tax Bill – HB 558/S 487 (Formerly #10)

6) North Carolina Tickets Bill – SB 99 (Formerly #4)

7) Federal Bills on Organized Retail Crime (Formerly #6)

8) Massachusetts Online Advertising Bill – HB 313 (New to iAWFUL)

9) North Carolina Advertising Nexus Proposal (New to iAWFUL)

10) New York Discriminatory Tax on Online Resume Searches