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Federal Judge Shoots Down Challenge to Maine’s Privacy Law

The law, which requires Internet service providers to get customer permission before selling or sharing their data, was largely upheld in federal court. U.S. District Court Justice Lance Walker dismissed most of the challenge presented by the ISPs.

(TNS) — A federal judge has rejected much of a legal challenge to Maine’s Internet privacy law.

The law, which just took effect on July 1, requires Internet service providers to get consumers’ consent before using or sharing their Internet-use data.

Four Internet industry groups representing Internet service providers and led by a Pennsylvania-based trade group called ACA Connects sued in February seeking to block the law, which sets some of the strictest consumer privacy rules in the country. The law was modeled on a rule adopted by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama, but overturned under President Trump in 2017.

The providers argued that Maine’s law violates First Amendment protections by, among other things, restricting the providers from advertising or marketing services to customers or from offering discounts or rewards in loyalty programs. Both the providers and the state sought a “judgment on the pleadings,” asking the judge to rule on the basis of preliminary arguments instead of waiting for a full trial.

U.S. District Court Justice Lance Walker turned down most of the providers’ legal challenge Tuesday, calling it a “shoot-the-moon argument.”

“Like Harold with a purple crayon, Plaintiffs have drawn themselves a steep mountain to climb” in seeking a quick ruling, Walker said.

“Not all speech deserves the same level of protection,” Walker wrote in his ruling, going on to say that commercial speech is generally afforded less First Amendment protection than political and other forms of speech.

Both sides had asked for a ruling on three of the five counts in the lawsuit and Walker rejected the ISPs’ request and instead granted the state’s. The suit on the other two counts, a First Amendment claim and another challenging the law as too vague, is still proceeding.

“While there will be more litigation, this initial ruling is a huge victory for Maine consumers and for our state’s efforts to take appropriate measures to protect their privacy,” Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said.

“While we disagree with the court’s initial decision, the glaring deficiencies with the Maine privacy statute remain,” said Brian Dietz, senior vice president for strategic communications for NCTA, the Internet & Television Association, one of the groups that challenged the Maine law.

“Consumers expect – and deserve – the same meaningful privacy protections across the Internet,” Dietz said. ISPs support a comprehensive national policy for Internet privacy, he said.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

©2020 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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