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<whew> That Was iAwfully Close!

We came awfully close to having the #1 iAWFUL law squash free speech to/from Maine Internet users.

As we described in our iAWFUL list last month, the Maine legislature slid amendments into a bill this summer to authorize lawsuits against any website that lets a Maine teenager register her name or email address – without “verifiable parental consent”.  Never mind that user authentication and verifiable consent are impossible in the online world.

Armed with this new law, any Ambulance Chaser in Augusta could just follow a yellow bus home from the local high school to find plaintiffs for their next lawsuit.  No wonder so many web service providers were monitoring Maine this week.  

So I traveled to Bangor today for a hearing before federal judge John Woodcock, with just 3 days left before this insane law takes effect.   NetChoice was joined by Reed Elsevier, the Maine Independent Colleges Association, and the Maine Press Association in calling for an injunction against the law, arguing that it tramples First Amendment rights while wreaking havoc with interstate commerce.

Judge Woodcock had just been on vacation, but he still carried that legendary “Maine Sensibility” into his courtroom.  He instructed both sides to work on acceptable language for an order and then he called a recess to show that he meant, RIGHT NOW!

Thus instructed, we worked-out language for an order that does 4 things:
1.    Acknowledges the constitutional defects
2.    Documents the state’s promise not to enforce the law
3.    Cites the Legislature’s promise to revise the law when they meet again
4.    Puts Maine plaintiff’s attorneys “on notice” that any suits based on this law would have to overcome the same constitutional questions.

This Court Order squashes the threat of the number one suspect on our iAWFUL list of the ten worst Internet laws in America.

That’s one down, and nine to go.

–Steve DelBianco