January 27, 2006

Legislative Activity

January 27, 2006

To:     AAF Members

From:     Clark Rector, Senior Vice President – State Government Affairs

Re:     Child Protection Registries

Lawmakers in Illinois and Georgia have introduced legislation requiring the creation of registries of children's e-mail addresses in an effort to prevent businesses from sending inappropriate e-mails to minors. Similar laws have already been enacted, and registries created, in Utah and Michigan.

Under these laws, and proposed laws, companies sending e-mail solicitations must pay a monthly fee to a third party contractor to have their mailing lists "scrubbed" of the e-mail addresses of any minors that have been submitted to the registry. Failure to comply would result in substantial monetary fines and, in some instances, criminal penalties.

While the purpose of the laws may be well intentioned, implementation raises a number of very troubling issues. First and foremost, the registries actually increase the danger to children. The Federal Trade Commission has expressed "grave concerns" about such registries and has stated that "the possibility that such a list could fall into the hands of the Internet's most dangerous users, including pedophiles, is truly chilling." Internet safety advocates such as Patty Aftab of WiredSafety.org have also voiced reservations about registries.

The laws also raise serious First Amendment issues rising from the chilling effect they have on marketers' communications with legitimate customers. Because marketers have no way of confirming the physical location of the owner of an e-mail address, even those with no good faith reason to believe any customers reside in Utah or Michigan are at risk of sanctions if they do not comply. Even if the registries were not more likely to hurt than help children, the cost and administrative burden on businesses far outweigh any benefit that could arise.

The bills in Georgia (Senate Bill 425) and Illinois (House Bill 572) go beyond requiring just e-mail address be added to the registries. Georgia would also require registration of instant message identities, any wireless communications device, facsimile numbers and any other electronic addresses subject to rulemaking. Illinois would also require registration of instant message identities, telephone numbers and postal addresses, with the Attorney General having the discretion to "designate additional kinds of contact points subject to registration."

The Utah law is being challenged in court by the Free Speech Coalition. The AAF is joining with the Email Sender & Provider Coalition and others to file an amicus brief supporting the suit. We are hopeful success will convince officials in other states that their registries will not survive a similar challenge.

In the meantime, it is very important that companies—especially those in Georgia and Illinois—contact lawmakers in those states and express strong opposition to the creation of these registries. Georgia lawmakers can be contacted through the General Assembly's Web site at http://www.legis.state.ga.us. The Illinois legislature's Web site is http://www.ilga.gov.