E-Mail Registries

In a misguided effort aimed at protecting children from online predators, some states are considering or have already implemented child e-mail registry laws. The laws apply to any sender of what states determine to be inappropriate commercial content for children and charge legitimate advertisers a per–e-mail fee to “scrub” their e-mail lists against state-approved lists of children who have been signed up for the registry.

AAF Position
E-mail registries are unsafe and prohibitively costly. The Federal Trade Commission has said that e-mail registries present serious security and privacy risks. Registering actually increases the danger for children, because all submitted lists are compared against a list of known e-mail addresses belonging to children. Registries make it easier for surreptitious groups to obtain those children’s contact information. Shadowy e-mailers who already routinely break U.S. laws or operate overseas will not suddenly comply with these new laws. Submitting marketing lists to a government agency raises serious privacy and First Amendment concerns. Ultimately, e-mail registries will hurt legitimate e-mail marketers while doing nothing to protect children.

Supporters of e-mail registries say they are willing to do anything if it means protecting children. The loudest advocate for the registries is a company that helped draft all of the bills that form current state registries. This company is the only one with the technology to implement the registries.

Utah: House Bill 1615. Enacted into law July 1, 2005. Requires marketers to pay $0.005 per e-mail checked and imposes criminal penalties for noncompliance. The Free Speech Coalition has filed suit in federal court against the law. The AAF has joined five other groups in preparing to file an amicus brief in support of the challenge.

Michigan: Senate Bill 1025 and House Bill 5979. Enacted July 21, 2005. This law is fundamentally identical to Utah’s, except it also allows children’s cell phones, fax numbers and instant messaging accounts to be blocked. Four Michigan advertising clubs contacted legislative leaders in opposition to the act.

Lawmakers in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois and Iowa introduced legislation in 2005 that would have created state e-mail registries, but none of these have been approved.

Other Action
After an Illinois state representative asked the Federal Trade Commission to weigh in on the issue, the FTC noted that it would be impossible to prevent abuse of the registry, providing “pedophiles and other dangerous persons with a list of contact points for Illinois children.” The comments also noted that the bill would increase costs for legitimate marketers who will have to pay to have their e-mail lists scrubbed and face harsh penalties for any violation.

Last updated: August 2007

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