By Ramona du Houx

United States District Judge Lance Walker ruled on July 7, 2020 in favor of a landmark privacy law passed by the Maine Legislature and signed by Governor Janet Mills in 2019.

The law, LD 946, “An Act To Protect the Privacy of Online Customer Information,” was sponsored by State Senator Shenna Bellows of Manchester and prevents broadband internet service providers operating in Maine from selling or sharing a customer’s personal data without the customers permission.

The groundbreaking law was challenged in federal court on preemption and First Amendment grounds by large telecom industry organizations. The Office of the Maine Attorney General defended the Act.

“I enthusiastically supported Senator Bellows bill when it was introduced because the state has a significant interest in protecting Mainers from practices which may place their personal and financial data at risk,” said Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey. “While there will be more litigation, this initial ruling is a huge victory for Maine consumers and for our states efforts to take appropriate measures to protect their privacy. The Office of the Attorney General looks forward to continuing to vigorously defend the law. We are pleased that the District Court was persuaded by our arguments that the law is not preempted, and we are confident that the law will withstand the industry’s First Amendment challenge.”

In his ruling Judge Walker categorically rejected all of the industry’s arguments that the Act is preempted by federal law, noting that one of their arguments was an attempt to create a conflict where none exists and that their reasoning blinks reality. The court also rejected the industry’s argument that Maines privacy law is subject to the strictest scrutiny under the First Amendment. Instead, the court held that the more lenient test for regulation of commercial speech applies.

LD 946 took effect on July 1, 2020.

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