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'Do not email' registries for parents begin in July in two states

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 by: Steve Diaz

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New state laws in Michigan and Utah will prohibit sending commercial email to children's email addresses which are registered with the states' new 'Do not email' lists.

Officials in both states have confirmed that their new registry web pages for parents ó websites where parents and guardians can soon make their kids' email addresses off limits to email marketers ó will be activated this month. Michigan's registry is scheduled to be available July 1 at http://www.michigan.gov, and Utah's website will debut its registry a few weeks later.

These are the first states to start their own 'Do not email' registries. Nationally, the option of starting a national "Do not email" list was explored following the signing of the federal Can-Spam act in 2003, but such a list was deemed impractical and never materialized.

Michigan's Child Protection Registry is set to go live July 1, said Dennis Darnoi, chief of staff for State Sen. Mike Bishop, sponsor of the original registry bill. Darnoi said the original bill was introduced as anti-spam legislation meant to curb all unsolicited email flowing into the state. When the federal Can-Spam Act was passed in 2003, the focus of the bill was then narrowed to email addresses that are registered by parents as belonging to children.

While no funds have been allocated for enforcement of the new law, all of the fines collected from violators will be funneled directly back to the state of Michigan and the attorney generals office, to be used for further enforcement, Darnoi says.

The first violation of Michigan's "do not email" law is a misdemeanor offense with a fine up to $10,000. The second and third offenses are classified as felonies, with fines and prison sentences of up to three years.

According to the office of Utah's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Utah's child protection registry is scheduled to begin July 1, giving parents 30 days to sign up their kids' email addresses and requiring emailers to scrub their sending lists of these addresses 30 days after the registry begins.

Utah will spend approximately $137,000 for its new registry this year, and has budgeted approximately $131,000 for fiscal 2006. This includes both enforcement and administration of the registry.

Both laws require third-party organizations to maintain their child protection registries. Chicago-based UnSpam is the registry contractor for Michigan. Utah's contractor could not be confirmed at press time. UnSpam CEO and co-founder Matthew Prince would not comment for this article, but the website at http://www.unspam.com describes Unspam as "the leaders in helping governments craft effective anti-spam laws and assisting legitimate businesses in complying with them."

Anne P. Mitchell, a law professor specializing in anti-spam laws and president of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy, says until the two states actually announce the mechanism they are going to use to scrub email lists, it will be difficult to gauge the compliance level of legitimate email marketers. "We are given to believe that the system will actually be fairly workable, technically speaking," Mitchell said.

"Whether requiring compliance with these laws is fair or not, it's the reality, and email senders need to comply or risk legal repercussions," she said. "From a practical standpoint, it can be entirely doable for a mailer to scrub their mailing lists against the registries once a month."

Mitchell says the real questions from an industry perspective are: whether scrubbing lists monthly is financially feasible (probably so for most large commercial senders, but not so much for small scale publishers, she says), whether the laws will make an appreciable difference, and whether the laws will withstand legal challenge, which will almost certainly come "once a legitimate mailer gets pinched," she says.

Michigan's Darnoi is confident that his state's child registry will survive initial criticism. The registry even has the endorsement of the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"One of the things the ACLU thought was attractive was the option for parents to participate. If they don't want to register their kids, they donít have to," Darnoi said.

Utah Senate Leader John Valentine, the senate sponsor of the child registry bill, said he had reservations over the Utah registry bill in its original form because it did not address the protection such a list would need from predators. "Some of the things that were done at the end of the bill gave me a lot more comfort that the children would get the protection," he said.

Valentine's office added this passage before the bill was signed into law: "No solution is completely secure. The most effective way to protect children on the Internet is to supervise use and review all email messages and other correspondence. Under law, theft of a contact point from the Child Protection Registry is a class B felony. While every attempt will be made to secure the Child Protection Registry, registrants and their guardians should be aware that their contact points may be at a greater risk of being misappropriated by marketers who choose to disobey the law."

"We're attempting to do everything we can constitutionally to protect children from the dark side of the internet," Valentine said.

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