Yesterday, NetChoice joined the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Maine Civil Liberties Union (and PFF, who submitted written testimony) before the Maine legislature to oppose a bill that would restrict how health-related products can me marketed to minors under age 17.
The bill, LD 1677, is a repeal and replacement for current law passed last year that was strongly opposed by the online industry. As I previously blogged, NetChoice was a lead plaintiff in last year’s lawsuit to enjoin the law. Though well intentioned, this law was overly-broad and wrought with constitutional concerns. As a result, Attorney General Mills agreed not to enforce the statute. In October last year, NetChoice joined others in testifying before Maine Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary regarding this law. In short, the conclusion of all parties involved was that the current legislation could not stand and that the legislature should move to quickly repeal.
So we all arrived in Augusta, ready for the next round – after all, this bill is #9 on the NetChoice iAWFUL list! But when we arrived, we were treated to a surprise amendment from the bill sponsor and this became the focus for discussion and testimony. Here’s the amended prohibition:
A person may not knowingly collect and use personal information collected on the Internet from a minor residing in this State for the purposes of pharmaceutical marketing prescription drugs to that minor, unless the minor specifically requests that information about the prescription drug be provided to them
John Morris at CDT gave great testimony and generally welcomed the amendment. However, he cautioned the committee that it should make sure that website intermediaries would not have liability for merely displaying ads. Or for displaying ads to minors that have previously registered with the site, and the ad display was unrelated to the information contained in the registration.
While the bill’s language is better for online companies, it remains to be proved why it’s needed in the first place. There seems to be a sweeping fear among many people that advertising is bad and tries to persuade us to do things we don’t need. Magnify this fear times ten when it comes to advertising and children, and pharmaceuticals.
I understand the thoughts that we’re an overly-medicated society, but that view often ignores the many benefits of modern medicine. Regardless, when it comes to prescription drug marketing and children, there are firm checks and balances in place with what parents must consent to and what doctors will ethically prescribe.
Keep your eyes and ears open for next week’s work session on Tuesday. That’s when there will be a vote, and we’ll see whether I need to board another plane to Maine, not that it’s that much of a pain.