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Federal judge rules in favor of Maine's landmark internet privacy law

A federal judge has rejected a challenge by internet service providers and upheld Maine’s “opt-in” web privacy law, one of the strictest in the nation.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker ruled Tuesday that four industry associations failed to show how Maine’s internet privacy law violates the First Amendment and he rejected the argument that it conflicts with existing federal law.

The state law, which was sponsored by State Senator Shenna Bellows of Manchester and passed by the Maine Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2019, prohibits internet service providers from using, disclosing, selling, or granting access to a customer’s personal information unless a customer gives the provider permission to do so.

Maine was the first state in the U.S. to require ISPs to get consent from customers before companies could use, disclose, or sell their data, and also protects customers who refuse to consent to the use of their data.

The law, titled “An Act to Protect the Privacy of Online Customer Information”, was challenged in federal court on preemption and First Amendment grounds by large telecom industry organizations.

Read the Act here:

Here is a statement from NCTA – The Internet & Television Association

“While we disagree with the court’s initial decision, the glaring deficiencies with the Maine privacy statute remain," The Internet & Television Association (NCTA). "Consumers expect – and deserve – the same meaningful privacy protections across the internet. Broadband providers are united in support of a comprehensive national privacy framework that puts consumers first and applies to all companies, including all those operating online, in a uniform and technology-neutral manner.”

The Office of the Attorney General defended the Act and Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey called the ruling "a huge victory for Maine consumers."

In a statement, Frey said:

“I enthusiastically supported Senator Bellows’s bill when it was introduced because the state has a significant interest in protecting Mainers from practices which may place their personal and financial data at risk. While there will be more litigation, this initial ruling is a huge victory for Maine consumers and for our state’s efforts to take appropriate measures to protect their privacy. The Office of the Attorney General looks forward to continuing to vigorously defend the law. We are pleased that the District Court was persuaded by our arguments that the law is not preempted, and we are confident that the law will withstand the industry’s First Amendment challenge.”

“This is a victory for Mainers and for other states that want to follow Maine’s example and protect internet users from the prying eyes of ISPs” Zach Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine said. “[Tuesday’s] judgment recognizes that states are uniquely positioned to legislate and protect the digital privacy of their residents.”

Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said the law “simply puts decisions regarding how that digital data is used back in our hands.”

“ISPs are uniquely positioned to collect information about us, and have a proven track record of privacy-invasive practices,” Eidelman continued. “Laws ensuring that they cannot unilaterally use and sell our data without our consent do not violate the First Amendment.”

The law took effect on July 1.

Read the Court's decision here:

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