Durbin–Conyers e-commerce act tops online list of ten worst Internet regulations

J. Arthur Bloom Deputy Editor
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Laws that bar minors from posting their ‘interests’ or ‘activities’ to Facebook? Taxes on iTunes downloads? The advocacy group NetChoice recently released its Fall 2011 “iAWFUL” (Internet Advocates Watchlist For Ugly Laws) list which tracks legislation that obstructs free choice and commerce on the Internet.

“iAwful is a list of items we want to bring attention to, either bills that have been introduced or legislation that has been passed. And also to warn other states to avoid some of those mistakes,” NetChoice executive director Steve DelBianco told The Daily Caller. “Number one on iAwful shows that congress is thinking of new ways to impose taxes on small business, even though it’s small businesses that create jobs.”

Topping the NetChoice list is the Durbin–Conyers Main Street Fairness Act, passed in late July, which requires retailers to collect and sales taxes — even in states where they have no physical presence.

Of all the law’s provisions, “one of the worst is that it fails to define safe harbors for small businesses that could be crushed by a new, multi-jurisdictional collection regime,” adds NetChoice’s website. Ironically, this law tips the scales in favor of large retail firms that have the scale and resources for complex sales-tax collection processes.

The other nine laws in the iAWFUL list run the gamut from well-intentioned to inept to downright daft. (RELATED: #AttackWatch trending on Twitter, but not in a good way)

An Indiana bill coming in at number six on the list would create a registry of minors’ email addresses, which retailers of age-restricted merchandise would be required to consult as a sort of do-not-call list. The database, NetChoice contends, is a major privacy risk — after Utah passed a similar law in 2006, the government accidentally disclosed the entire list — and also imposes major compliance costs on small businesses.

Others include a Tennessee law that criminalizes posting anything online that would “cause emotional distress,” and Puerto Rico legislation that would require parental consent before a minor posts any identifiable information to a social networking site. A similar bill was introduced in California and made the Spring iAWFUL list, but it narrowly failed in the state legislature.

“But for one vote, it would have been law,” DelBianco warns.

This is the sixth year for the iAWFUL list, and DelBianco sees no sign of regulators making the project obsolete. “I’m really troubled by how lawmakers this fall are actively imposing new taxes and restrictions on the most promising aspects of the Internet,” he told TheDC.

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J. Arthur Bloom