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Does First Amendment let ISPs sell Web-browsing data? Judge is skeptical

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The broadband industry has lost a key initial ruling in its bid to kill a privacy law imposed by the state of Maine.

The top lobby groups representing cable companies, mobile carriers, and telecoms sued Maine in February, claiming the privacy law violates their First Amendment protections on free speech and that the state law is preempted by deregulatory actions taken by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. Maine’s Web-browsing privacy law is similar to the one killed by Congress and President Donald Trump in 2017, as it prohibits ISPs from using, disclosing, or selling browsing history and other personal information without customers’ opt-in consent. The law took effect on July 1, 2020.

The case is not over, but the ruling today by Judge Lance Walker in US District Court for the District of Maine dealt a major blow to the broadband industry’s lawsuit. The plaintiffs representing the broadband industry are America’s Communications Association, CTIA, NCTA, and USTelecom. Walker denied the plaintiffs’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, criticized the industry’s First Amendment argument, and granted Maine’s motion to dismiss claims that the state law is preempted by federal law.

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