August 14th, 2005

If you're running a mailing list....

Last year, both the states of Michigan and Utah passed laws that mandated that they each create a "child protection registry" -- a list on which can be placed email addresses either 'belonging' to children, or to which children have access.

Under these laws, which are taking effect next week, if an email sender sends commercial email to any email address on the child protection registry, and if a primary purpose of that email is to advertise, or to link to an advertisement for, any product or service which is otherwise off limits to children (such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling, illegal or prescription drugs, or adult-themed content), that email sender faces strict liability which can include up to 3 years in prison, and fines of $30,000 or more. In addition, ISPs and the individuals whose email addresses are on the registry have a right of action against the sender, as does the state attorney general.

In order to avoid running afoul of the registry laws, emailers must either:

1. Ensure that they never send any email containing unpermitted materials, links to unpermitted materials, or even links to sites which have information about the unpermitted materials; or

2. Match their mailing lists against the email registries maintained by Michigan and Utah, on a monthly basis. There is a per-email-address fee associated with this list matching. Email lists are provided to the state in an encrypted fashion, and the email address registry is also encrypted.

More about implications:
What worries companies that rely on e-mail is that it's not clear what an aggrieved parent or ambitious prosecutor might deem "harmful to minors." One federal appeals court ruled that gay-themed publications, sex education sites and even could fall under that umbrella.

One major difference between the two states is that Michigan's rules apply only to advertisements. Utah's law regulates even noncommercial correspondence with off-color material--a requirement that could technically trap someone sending a dirty joke to an unmoderated mailing list with a registered minor on it.

Link found at