AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s pioneering and strict internet privacy law is not preempted by federal law, a judge ruled on Tuesday in a scathing rebuke to a pivotal argument from internet service providers.
The case is not finished. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker said he did not have enough evidence in front of him on whether the law unfairly regulates commercial speech to dismiss it outright. But his criticism of the plaintiffs’ arguments may not bode well for them in the long run.
Four industry associations representing internet service providers sued the state in February in an attempt to prevent the law, which is believed to be one of the strictest in the country, from taking effect on July 1. The “opt-in” law prevents providers from using, disclosing, selling or permitting access to personal information unless a customer gives permission to do so.
In Walker’s Tuesday ruling, he compared the request from providers to “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” a 1955 children’s book whose titular character is a boy who can create his own world by drawing it. He said their argument that federal privacy laws preempt the state law is “attempting to create a conflict where none exists.”
Attorney General Aaron Frey, a Democrat, called the ruling a “huge victory” and said he was confident the law would withstand further scrutiny. The Internet & Television Association — one of the plaintiffs in the suit — said it disagreed with the ruling and that consumers deserved uniform privacy protections across the internet.
The law, sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, faced opposition from national trade groups and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. It was meant to reinstate rules implemented under former Democratic President Barack Obama’s that were repealed in 2017 by a Republican-led Congress. Walker was appointed to his post in 2018 by President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Maine won another broadband court ruling earlier this year when a federal judge determined a law requiring cable operators to extend service to areas with at least 15 homes per mile and to place public-access channels near local broadcasting stations in channel lineups was meant to protect customers and fell within the state’s regulatory powers.