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    Maine Public Broadcasting Network: State Lawmakers Redraw Bill Aimed at Online Protection of Minors

    The Maine Public Broadcasting Network reports on a new effort by state legislators to pass a bill to protect the privacy of children online.

    By the end of the month, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Schneider of Orono expects to have a new bill that will attempt to prevent teenagers from falling victim to the online mining of healthcare information by Internet marketers. Many teenagers participate in online surveys without their parents consent and Schneider says few have any idea of what happens to the information they provide.

    “What concerns me about this is that when you dig into this and you find what they’re doing is that they’re actually promoting certain kinds of medications and things that are completely inappropriate for children,” Schneider says.

    Schneider tried to extend the federal children’s online privacy protections currently available to children 13 and younger, to all kids up through age 18 under a state law enacted earlier this year. The law was challenged by several Maine colleges and other parties who claimed the measure was simply too broadly worded and restricted the teenagers’ free speech rights under the First Amendment.

    After Maine Attorney General Janet Mills announced she would not enforce the law because of the constitutional implications, Schneider agreed to craft a new piece of legislation that repeals much of the original bill and replaces it with a more narrowly focused goal to address medical information. […]

    Because of widespread concerns over what could be considered to be personal information under Schneider’s earlier bill, she says her revision will be limited to marketing pharmaceutical inquiries and other health-related issues. […]

    A public hearing on a new online protection bill for Maine teenagers could be scheduled as soon as next month when the Maine Legislature reconvenes.

    Several states have laws to protect children’s privacy, and there is a federal law on the issue. The federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) seeks to protect children from online marketing techniques that are invasive and that their parents do not know of nor consent to. COPPA sets out regulations on the collection, access to and use of personal data by Web sites that are targeted to children (under age 13).

    COPPA does not apply to Web sites that are not targeted specifically toward children. However, such general-audience sites must follow the COPPA regulations if they have specific sections for children or actual knowledge of children using their site (and therefore that they are collecting data from children). The Act also applies to international Web sites that are directed at children in the United States. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has a good page on children’s online privacy.

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