Dozier Internet Law reported late last year that Congress was considering passing the "Free Flow of Information Act" that would have created a loophole wide enough for every scofflaw blogger to slide through. The proposed bill is a proposed "shield law" that would allow "journalists", including bloggers, to hide behind their "sources" under many circumstances. This would have opened up the opportunity for bloggers running the extortion scams to create their own postings and comments attacking businesses and then allow them to hide any evidence as to the source of the posts. I blogged about the unanticipated and unintended consequences that would ensue. The Dozier Internet Law expose' on the personas of scofflaw bloggers and our Dozier Internet Law extortion site documentation found their way to Washington, and while we have no idea what direct impact our perspective had on the debate, our friends working to "kill" the bill report that it now applies only to journalists earning "a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for sustantial financial gain". Obviously that was much better, but then the bill was also amended to provide that it was not to be construed as applying to civil defamation, slander, or libel claims under State laws. Since these are the primary bases for legal action against the extortion racket bloggers and other bloggers with little regard for truth, let's chalk this one up, so far, as a victory for business. I think Congress, at least the House, sent a message to the blogosphere that free speech has its limits, and if you are going to run a criminal enterprise, or break the law by defaming a business, you are on your own. I guess the free speech groups were due a setback, although I don't immediately recall any victories the liberal, anti-business forces have enjoyed since the late 1990s on the legislative front. Let's hope the House version becomes law, because the Senate version is weaker in protecting businesses on this point. Anything could happen, of course, if the conflicting bills make it up to conference committee.
In other federal legislative news, there are rumblings from the Federal Trade Commission about a "do not track registry" on the heels of the "Behavioral Advertising Privacy Principles" it recently promulgated. Use of personal and behavioral tracking data for online marketing and sales is certainly going to be a hot issue. At Dozier Internet Law we expect the privacy and anonymity interests (ie. ACLU and Public Citizen) to be going heads up against some powerful online marketers and retailers. Federal spyware legislation is working its way through Congress also. Dozier Internet Law defended the first business accused of violating the first spyware law in the US several years ago, and I can tell you that the definition of what is considered "spyware" will likely come as an unwelcome surprise to many businesses if the law passes as is. There are also data breach notification and social security number disclosure bills in the House of Representatives and the US Senate.
Briefly, on the state level, there is the ongoing "at distance sales tax" issue in New York, state data breach notification bills, at least one data storage bill that creates liability for businesses for loss by their financial institutions (credit card merchants), various social security protection and disclosure bills, and a "do not sell" bill that requires an opt-in to permit an online business to sell personal information it has gathered.
I believe it was Thomas More who said that information is power. Some of the most successful online business enterprises have figured out how to take data, convert it into information, and in so doing build a lucrative business. At Dozier Internet Law we'll continue to work to make sure businesses are dealt with fairly, and the very idea of limiting the use of information in business is of course problematic. When I testified before the US Senate there was a concern about allowing private taxpayer information to move securely in an electronic manner. That testimony was ten years ago. Looks like data protection is still at the forefront of the debate, and it will probably take another ten years to iron it all out to everyone's satisfaction.
If you want to keep up with many of the latest significant lawsuits filed around the country dealing with the Internet, you may want to check out the Dozier Internet Law Federal Court Report. Then you'll have the latest news from both the legislatures and the courts...