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ACLU readies for another Net fight

In preparation for a possible second fight for free speech rights on the Net, the ACLU has asked Georgia's Attorney General to examine a new Georgia law intended to protect trademarks on the Web.

The American Civil Liberties Union may be gearing up to file another Net-related freedom of speech case, this one against the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act.

The ACLU of Georgia this week requested an opinion from Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers regarding the Act passed into law on July 1. Introduced by Georgia House of Representatives member Don Parsons (R-Marietta), the law is ostensibly intended to protect registered trademarks on the Net.

But a group of Web page publishers, businesses, and organizations say the law is overly broad and unconstitutionally vague. Gerald Weber, ACLU of Georgia Legal Director and Scott McClain, attorney with Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore are leading the fight to overturn the recently passed law. The attorneys will wait to file a real legal challenge until they hear from the Attorney General in response to their letter. They have requested that an opinion be issued within 15 days.

"If the restrictions are imposed as broad as the plain language of the statute indicates, however, this Act is clearly an invalid and unconstitutional restriction upon their rights to free expression, association, access to information, and privacy," stated the letter.

The act makes it illegal to "transmit any data through a computer network...for the purpose of setting up, maintaining, operating or exchanging data with an electronic mailbox, home page, or electronic information storage bank or point of access to electronic information if such data uses any individual falsely identify the person..."

Violators could face up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

The ACLU says the law fails to define "false identification" and is requesting that the law be rewritten to apply only to communication that involves deliberate fraud. The organization underscored its point by citing examples where anonymous emails or the use of pseudonyms would be appropriate including requests for information about private topics such as AIDS, rape crisis, or spousal abuse as well as discussion or publication of controversial political, religious, or other viewpoints.

Related stories:
Georgia trademark law challenged
Georgia OKs "Net Police" law