A bill signed into law this week by Georgia Governor Zell Miller
sparked yet another firestorm over what role the government should
take in curbing the Internet and whether legislators are sufficiently
techno-savvy to make considered judgments.
House Bill 1630 was introduced on February 8 by Georgia House of
Representatives member Don Parsons (R-Marietta). The bill makes it illegal
to falsely identify yourself or place a registered trademark or logo on
your home page. The bill also makes it illegal for email users to have
addresses that don't include their own names.
For example, an individual who sets up a site that gives the appearance of
representing a government agency by using a state seal could be sued by the
state. Also, "vanity" email addresses like email@example.com
purchased from a new service called VanityMail.com are now illegal in the
state of Georgia. If someone is sued under the new law, the court will
decide the penalties.
Parsons says he drafted the bill to solve the problem of online
impersonation. "Back in the winter I started hearing about home pages
through the news that offer remedies and health related services. To the
untrained eye the pages make it appear that the information provided is
valid and could be some kind of remedy," Parsons said. "After some thought
and research I decided
to present the bill."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties organization
devoted to technology-related issues, says the bill could undermine one of
the essential benefits of the Net: the ability to link information posted to
one site with related information posted to another.
"The way the bill is written states that you can't put a button on your
homepage that says, 'Click here to go to Wired magazine.'" If Wired is
copyrighted I would be under violation if I didn't have their permission.
Instead, I would have to say, 'Click here to go to this cool magazine,'"
said Shari Steel, a staff attorney with the EFF.
Parsons retorts back that the foundation is misinterpreting the bill. "The EFF is reading
something into the bill which just isn't there. The bill has nothing to do
with links. The bill is about using a name or a trademark to represent your
page as being someone else's," he said.
The problem is that the wording of the law leaves it open to multiple
interpretations, according to the EFF. "He created a very vague law that
could very well
make everyone on the Internet a criminal," said Steel. Furthermore, the EFF
is accusing Parsons of introducing the bill to help his employer, Bell
South, win a lawsuit.
Bell South announced this week that it has filed a suit against startup company
"realpages.com" in a battle over domain names on the Internet. Realpages.com
designs and maintains Web pages for other businesses. Bell South, however,
has a trademark on the term
The Real Yellow Pages for its printed directories and claims that this
extends to a trademark on the "realpages.com" domain name for the Net. The
Baby Bell wants to use "realpages.com" because "Realyellowpages.com" is too
"This [bill] has been masterminded by Bell South. It's obvious, considering
that the legislator who wrote the bill is a Bell South employee," said
Stanton McCandlish, an online activist with the EFF. "This bill would give
Bell South the victory that they want, but probably aren't going to get in
court. Bell South is going to lose that case and lose big," he said.
Parsons confirms that he works for Bell South but denies the charge. "The
Bell South Corporation has no interest in
this bill. I don't even think the cases are the same," Parsons said. "I
put this bill together long before that case and they are totally separate," he said.
Whatever Parsons' motivations, even some other Georgia representatives
agree that he managed to get a bill passed with potential negative
repercussions for the use of the Internet.
"Many legislators are afraid of technology and
they fear the power of information and the Internet, especially the Internet
in the power of the voters and that's a nationwide problem," said
Representative Mitchell Kaye (R-Marietta).
Kaye is the Web master of a site called the Conservative Policy Caucus (CPC), which posts information about House activities from the viewpoint of the
conservative legislative caucus. During debate over his bill, Parsons
referred to the CPC site as an example of one that passes itself off as an
official government site.
Kaye says that Parsons is wrong about the CPC site and that it will be
unaffected by the bill. But he's still concerned about the potential
dampening affect that it will have on the use of the Internet in
Georgia. "I'm concerned about the bigger page of the Internet," said Kaye.
"The bottom line is that this is an unconstitutional infringement upon free
speech and literally puts Georgia in the same
category as communist China."
Ridiculous, says Parsons.
"I would never want to restrict anybody's
freedom of speech, but I believe that end users have some right to know who
is behind what they are looking at," he said.
The passage of the law has since sparked conversation on Steve Outing's online-news mailing list.