Maine AG Says New Marketing Law Raises Concerns

A new Maine law restricting marketing to minors is so problematic that Attorney General Janet Mills will not enforce the measure, her office said Friday.

"The Attorney General's position is that she's not enforcing the law," Maine Deputy Attorney General Paul Stern said Friday.

Stern added that the authorities take the position that the measure could violate teens' free speech rights -- an argument raised last week by groups who mounted a court challenge to the statute. "We share some of the plaintiffs' concerns about the law," Stern said.

The law, slated to take effect Sept. 12, would bar companies from collecting personal information or health-related information from minors under 18 without their parents' consent. The measure also bans companies from selling or transferring health information about minors that identifies them, regardless of how the data was collected.

A coalition of media organizations and Web companies including AOL, Yahoo and eBay challenged the measure in court on Wednesday. Among other arguments, they contend that the law would violate their First Amendment right to publish newsworthy information about teens, as well as restricting teens' right to receive information. The Web companies also say the measure would require them to block teens from their sites.

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The challenges are seeking an injunction against the measure, which would allow private parties to sue for $250 damages per violation. The opponents say that because the law puts them at risk of civil lawsuits, the statute should be enjoined regardless of whether the Attorney General intends to enforce it.

Opponents to the law include the Maine Independent Colleges Association, Maine Press Association, Reed Elsevier and NetChoice -- a coalition of companies like AOL, eBay, Yahoo, IAC, News Corp. and Overstock.com.

For all the challenges the law now faces, the measure sailed through the Maine legislature earlier this year without opposition -- apparently because groups lost sight of the bill.

Mike Lange, executive director of the Maine Press Association, said in an email to Online Media Daily that Maine lawmakers considered more than 2,000 bills in its most recent session and that many committee hearings on measures affecting media were held simultaneously. "With only a part-time executive director (me) and our board of directors all employed full-time, it is virtually impossible for us to keep track of every bill that goes through the process."

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