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Internet

Virginia enacts handful of Net laws

Marking a big step toward his goal to make Virginia a high-tech policy leader, Gov. James Gilmore signs bills addressing online child pornography, consumer privacy, fraud, spam, and encryption.

    Marking a big step toward his goal to make Virginia a high-tech policy leader, Gov. James Gilmore today signed a handful of Net bills into law.

    The Virginia Internet Policy Act addresses online child pornography, consumer privacy, fraud, spam, and encryption.

    "Virginia is rapidly See Newsmaker: Building the Silicon Dominion emerging as the nation's leader in information technology, the Internet, and Internet policy," Gilmore said in a statement. "The first comprehensive state Internet policy was developed to be a model policy with input from technology leaders and government officials."

    But the package also contains an encryption provision that slaps on additional penalties if encryption is used during criminal activity; a similar condition in a federal bill has been contested by civil liberties advocates.

    The Virginia package was drafted by Gilmore's 36-member Commission on Information Technology, which, along with America Online's Steve Case, includes Robert McDowell, a Microsoft vice president; John Sidgmore, vice chairman of MCI-Worldcom; and Michael Daniels, chairman of Network Solutions.

    The new laws address a wide range of other issues, including as follows:

    • Consumer Privacy Protection: Echoing the Federal Trade Commission's stance, Virginia now requires that online companies clearly post their personal information collection practices and disclose how they use the data, as well as let consumers opt out of giving up sensitive details such as their home address or Social Security number. The state also lays out an enforcement mechanism, directing the state to prosecute companies that have "deceptive policies" or violate their own guidelines.

    • Spam: Aiming in part to ease congestion on networks owned by Internet service providers such as AOL and MCI WorldCom, the law aims to curb unsolicited bulk email or communication that is "fraudulent, unauthorized, or otherwise illegal," and aims to have it "prosecuted just as it would in any other medium." Virginia's "computer trespassing" law, which means using an ISP's equipment without permission, also should be updated, the Act states.

    • Digital "sunshine": One new law states that information sought under the Freedom of Information Act should be posted on the Internet or sent via electronic mail to citizens who request it.

    However, based on the governor's office release, the package no longer seems to contain provisions to curtail online material that is "harmful to minors." The original proposal called for stricter laws when it comes to sexually soliciting minors via the Net or posting a child's contact information on a pornographic Web site.