Internet Legislation Review

1997's Internet legislation in review with commentary. Items selected from the Illinois State Bar Association's Intellectual Property Section Council's "Internet Law Subcommittee Report."

by / November 30, 1997 0
January



An Illinois state law went into effect making it punishable by up to five years in prison to solicit minors, by computer, into having sex.

The Federal Trade Commission held an Internet hunt for scams. In three hours it managed to turn up more than 500 Web sites that may be fronts for illegal pyramid schemes.

The American Library Association and the ACLU sued New York state in federal court, claiming the state's version of the Communications Decency Act -- which makes it a criminal offense to distribute pictures or text that are harmful to minors -- is an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of speech and unduly interferes with interstate commerce. The case is ALA v. Pataki.

February

Legislation was introduced in Maryland that would make it illegal to send "annoying" or "embarrassing" e-mail. It is similar to a bill in the New York Legislature.

Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced a bill that would repeal amendments to the Communications Act made by the CDA. In the meantime, 22 members of Congress filed an Amici Curiae brief with the Supreme Court in Reno v. ACLU in support of the Communications Decency Act.

In Nevada, legislation was introduced to prohibit sending unsolicited e-mail to solicit a person to purchase real property, goods or services unless the recipient has a pre-existing business relationship with the message sender.

The Consumer Internet Privacy Protection Act of 1997 (H.R. 97) was introduced in the House. The Act provides that "an interactive computer service shall not disclose to a third party any personally identifiable information provided by a subscriber to such service without the subscriber's prior informed written consent."

March

The Dallas Morning News published a story on the alleged confession by Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh on its Web site before running the story in its print edition. Apparently, the paper feared the judge would impose a restraining order to prevent coverage of the incident, so the paper decided to run the story on its Web site immediately to moot any order restraining publication.

Legislation in California proposed by Assembly Member Bill Campbell required all school districts that were connected to the Internet to purchase and use software that would filter out any sites that contain or make reference to any of the following: sexual acts, drugs or the drug culture, gambling, illegal activity, and alcoholic beverages and tobacco. This also prohibited hyperlinking to works such as the Bible, the State of the Union Address, some court decisions, anti-smoking literature, etc.

A bill was proposed in the Texas Legislature that would, under threat of a criminal penalty, require anyone who provides Internet access for a fee to provide to customers free content-blocking software (free for at least 30 days).

April

New York joined the list of states considering anti-commercial e-mail legislation. The New York bill would ban unsolicited commercial e-mail sent without permission or without a previous business relationship.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) introduced the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1997, which would make illegal the transmission of any information related to gambling, including bets, wagers or the chance to win a prize or lottery.

Sen. Ron Wyden introduced S. 442, The Internet Tax Freedom Act, which established a two-year moratorium prohibiting state and local governments from imposing new taxes on Internet transactions. Rep. Chris Cox introduced a similar bill in the House. The Tax-Free Internet Act (HR99), a separate piece of legislation, was also introduced in the House by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.).

May

The Clinton administration released a new white paper on privacy entitled Options for Promoting Privacy on the National Information Infrastructure. Comments are being solicited. The paper is available at .

Arizona released an advisory ethics opinion (97-04) addressing Web site advertising, online referral services, communication issues involving e-mail, chat rooms and newsgroups. A summary is available at .

The Nevada bill that would criminalize the sending of certain unsolicited commercial e-mail was revised (and now only provides a civil remedy). A copy of the revised bill can be found at .

June

The Los Angeles Police Department Web page was added to the list of hacked government Web pages. (A mirror of the hacks can be seen at .)

The ACLU filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Urofsky et al. v. Allen) in order to block a Virginia law that makes it illegal to use the state's "information infrastructure" to access or download materials with sexually explicit content. A copy of the complaint is available at the ACLU Web site at .

The Warren, Mich. city council banned using public library computers to "look at pornographic words and pictures in city libraries and prohibits access to sexually oriented chat rooms" according to the Detroit News.

July/August

In Reno v. ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled parts of the Communications Decency Act are an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment. A copy of the decision is available at .

A New York court struck down New York state's equivalent to the Communications Decency Act, claiming that it posed an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause. A copy of the case is available at .

The Senate agreed unanimously to pull the plug on computer games in government offices and bar the government from buying any new computers with games already loaded. Unfortunately, the restriction was proposed after a senator received an online demonstration during which an aide demonstrated an Internet game -- in other words, the game was not even installed on the government computer in the first place.

Nevada passed the SPAM bill. However, as Ray Everett-Church of CAUCE (Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail) pointed out, "The law would permit unsolicited commercial e-mail as long as the sender includes his/her legal name and address and informs the recipient of how to remove themselves from the sender's mailing list. The law also is devoid of any requirement that spammers honor remove requests that don't conform with their requirements and there are no restrictions on what might be required in order to effect removal. Therefore, as enacted, a spammer could potentially require a recipient to pay them $500 for removal."

September

Texas passed a new law that penalizes anyone who "prepares, sells, offers or advertises for sale, or delivers to another person an academic product when the person knows, or should reasonably have known, that a person intends to submit or use the academic product to satisfy an academic requirement." College administrators were particularly worried about businesses on the Internet that sell term papers from Web sites and have sent warnings to operators of such sites that prosecutions will be sought if the operators continue to do business with Texas residents.

Massachusetts repealed state taxes on Internet services (retroactive to 1990). The new legislation excludes Internet access, electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards and Web hosting services from the definition of taxable telecommunications services. The legislation attempts to prevent service users from moving their business to states with more preferential tax treatment.

October

California required state agencies with Web sites to allow citizens to file complaints to the agencies
through e-mail. A new law also required agencies to include their Web addresses in telephone directories and to let people know that they can use computers at public libraries to lodge complaints about government services.

After an 18-month investigation, the New York state Attorney General's office made 34 arrests and identified some 1,500 people around the world suspected of trafficking in child pornography over the Internet.

Rep. Goodlatte introduced H.R. 2380, The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1997. The bill imposed fines and prison time on anyone who knowingly uses a communications facility for the transmission or receipt in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or certain information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers.

November

Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J) and Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) introduced a bill to amend the Communications Act that would ban convicted sex offenders from using the Internet. Service providers who allow sex offenders online will be subject to fines of $5,000 per day.

The Federal Trade Commission conducted "North American Health Claim Surf Day," the next in a series of attempts to locate and remove various types of fraud on the Internet. An FTC press release is available at

The United States President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection (PCCIP) completed its investigation and report. Though much of the Commission's work is classified, the Commission released a report with 34 recommendations for protecting telecommunications, electric power, transportation, oil and gas, banking and finance, water supply systems, emergency services, and government services. A non-classified version of the report is available on the PCCIP web page in 5 PDF files at

David Loundy is an attorney at the Chicago law firm of Davis, Mannix & McGrath, practicing in the areas of intellectual property, computer and entertainment law. He is chairman of the Chicago Bar Association Computer Law Committee and a member of the Illinois State Bar Association Intellectual Property Section Council, for which he chairs the Internet Law subcommittee. Internet: . E-mail: . Copyright