The Lawmaker’s Internet Trick or Treat

NetChoice's list of the 6 scariest Internet laws

What are the worst laws threatening the Internet? NetChoice has a list for that.

For the fifth year, NetChoice, a public policy organization that promotes Internet innovation, has surveyed the legal landscape and identified the laws and proposed laws that could potentially undermine key elements of Internet freedom and commerce.

"These are the truly scary laws that keep us up at night," said Carl Szabo, NetChoice's policy council.

The iAwful list (for Internet Advocates Watch list of Ugly Laws), which comes out twice a year, is circulated to lawmakers and to NetChoice members such as AOL, eBay, Facebook,, and Yahoo, as well as more than 6,000 consumers and groups concerned about the keeping the Internet free and open.

1. A small change in the Communications Decency Act could make Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and other social nets responsible for inappropriate posts. The push to amend the act is coming from several states' attorneys general. If the feds pursue the change, it could spell the end of user-generated content, the very foundation of the modern Internet. "Sites we use every day could not exist without it," said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice. "If amended, website operators will wake up to a nightmare reality of new liability for criticisms posted by users."

2. A new California privacy bill (CA SB 568) chills advertising on the Internet. The law, which goes into effect in January 2015, prohibits certain advertising to teenagers and makes ecommerce sites liable for ads posted by users. Ads for lottery tickets, and even spray paint would be illegal and cost the website $2,500 for each ad seen. NetChoice expects legal challenges to the law based on the First Amendment and other grounds.

3. Infringing on the right to public photography makes it harder to find criminals. Laws under consideration in Michigan and Massachusetts would limit the collection and retention of license plate reader technology widely used by law enforcement. Although federal law already limits access to vehicle registration records, the new laws would undermine the federal law and dump historical data. Ironically, the ACLU, which is promoting the bills, originally said taking photographs that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right.

4. A federal Internet sales tax bill, called the Marketplace Fairness Act, could cripple e-commerce. NetChoice says the zombie bill would unleash tax collectors from 46 states and 550 Indiana tribes on the catalog and online businesses. The bill would cost websites between $80,000 to $290,000 for the tax software and add expenses between $57,500 and $260,000. Although the Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act, the bill is dormant in the House.

5. Some states want to impose new taxes on travel services. Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Oregon are creating new taxes on the services provided by online travel sites and local travel agents. Virginia and Tennessee rejected the proposed bills, but Oregon passed its version, adding taxes to taxis, tickets, hotel services, tours, food, alcohol and entertainment to be collected by online travel agents.

6. New legislation wants to take control of your online accounts when you die. You may want to know how you want your online accounts handled, but several states are considering bills that allow a court-appointed executor to counter your wishes. NetChoice is working with the Uniform Law Commission to try and create a model that respects the wishes of the deceased and allow personal representation to properly manage the estate, while complying with existing laws. 

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