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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
March 4, 2010
(202) 289-8928
COPPA Expansion Would Impact All Internet Users
Szoka Submits Comments Regarding Maine Pharmaceutical Marketing Bill

WASHINGTON D.C. - Proposed legislation that would extend regulations in the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to adolescents would be unconstitutional, explained Berin Szoka in comments filed today with the Maine State Legislature. Specifically, expanding age verification mandates would require all users to surrender privacy and speech rights while doing little to benefit minors. The comments were filed in response to the proposed "Act to Protect Minors from Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices" pending in the state legislature.

In the comments, PFF Senior Fellow Szoka argued that the proposed law, like others that seek to extend child online protection laws to older minors, would be unconstitutional because it would:

  • Restrict the rights of adolescents to access legal and potentially beneficial information, even though these rights are not on par with those of adults;
  • Burden the free speech rights of adults to the extent that such laws force online operators to presume that everyone they deal with online might be a child and to require adults to rebut this presumption through age verification;
  • Impose an undue burden on the rights of online operators to engage in truthful speech that is not misleading about legal and potentially beneficial pharmaceuticals; and
  • Violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution when enacted at the state level, since Internet activity clearly represents interstate commerce that states have no authority to regulate.

Such laws are also generally inadvisable from a policy perspective in that they would:

  • Come at the expense of the clear benefits of pharmaceutical advertising provides to consumers, including adolescents, such as increasing information about their choices and lowering pharmaceutical prices through competition;
  • Potentially reduce, rather than enhance, the privacy of adolescents, parents and other adults because of the massive volume of personal information that would have to be collected about users for authentication purposes (likely including credit card data);
  • Likely be the subject of massive fraud or evasion since it is not always possible to definitively verify the parent-child relationship, or because the system could be "gamed" in other ways by determined adolescents; and
  • Would not be enforceable for offshore sites.

The comments are available on the PFF website. Szoka is also the co-author of "COPPA 2.0: The New Battle Over Privacy, Age Verification, Online Safety & Free Speech."

Szoka is available for further comment. Please contact Amy Smorodin at

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



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