State law restricts anonymity, misrepresentation on Internet
GEORGIA–In early July, an amendment to the state Computer Systems Protection Act took effect, prohibiting the use of any name, trade name, trademark, or copyrighted symbol that “falsely” identifies a party transmitting information via the Internet or “falsely implies” that the party has permission to “use” the name, trademark or symbol.
Don Parsons (R-Marietta), the law’s sponsor, said that it is intended to prevent fraud through the misrepresentation of the creator and origin of information on the Internet. But opponents argue that the law is vague and will chill presently protected uses of trademarks, aliases, and anonymous communication. Many user IDs do not clearly reveal the name of the actual user, and users also make use of nicknames or other words to identify themselves.
Noting that Parsons admitted that he has never used the Internet, George Grindley (R-Marietta), said that the law was passed by “legislators who don’t know a gigabyte from a chigger bite.”
Even creating a link to another web site or mentioning a trademark in a online discussion might generate liability, according to Shari Steele, counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “There is no rational reason to make criminals out of all users of the Internet,” she argued.
The law, which carries a penalty of up to a year in prison, applies not only to state residents, but to any person who transmits data that is received in or passes through Georgia. Information sent over the Internet passes through many computers unknown to the sender before it reaches its recipient.
The ACLU and other groups have threatened to challenge the law in court unless the Georgia Attorney General issues an official opinion narrowly construing the law. (H.B. 1630)