Michigan Children's Protection Registry Act Stalled

LANSING, Mich. — The idea behind the Michigan Children's Protection Registry Act was simple: protect children from viewing adult content online by letting parents sign up for a registry that would officially bar purveyors of adult products from emailing any addresses on the list.

Problem is, state officials have found enacting such legislation is incredibly complicated, to say nothing of wrought with First Amendment and free speech issues.

As such, the Act still remains in the Michigan House, quietly awaiting approval of two last-minute bills designed to clean up some of its vague language. One bill stipulates the maximum amount violators of the Act can be fined, while the other is trying to make it more affordable for smaller businesses to comply with the Act’s compliance requirements.

State officials said the Act could be up and running as soon as Oct. 30, four months after nearly 3,000 parents and 27 schools signed up for the registry.

The wait time has angered many state residents, adding fire to the already controversial legislation that began last summer when Michigan and Utah became the first states to offer Do-Not-Email registries specifically for children.

The law doesn’t merely target porn producers. Emails that advertise alcohol, tobacco, gambling, lotteries, illegal drugs, firearms and even fireworks are also banned, and Michigan holds companies individually responsible if emails for any of the above products reach an email address submitted to the registry. Violations are currently punishable by up to three years in jail and a $30,000 fine.

The severity of the punishments has caused quite a stir in the business world, with many citing the cost of compliance as a primary issue with the Act. As it stands now, companies must remove email addresses from their marketing campaigns within 30 days of their registration, but to do this they have to pay the state $.007 for each address checked.

Consequently, scrubbing 2 million email addresses would cost $14,000. Checking it every month would add up to $168,000 a year in compliance costs.

Enforcement is another major issue, begging the question how the state will even be able to track down violators in the first place.

“Everyone's looking for a silver bullet, but this is not it,” said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Email Service Provider Coalition “This law suggests every pornographer should scrub their lists against the registry in Michigan. It's very difficult to enforce that.

“We frequently say many spammers enjoy the impunity of anonymity,” he said.

For now, state officials who support the Act said they would continue to spread the world throughout the state, hoping the recent legislative delays haven’t forced the Act from the public’s consciousness.

“There are thoughts about how we will re-educate the public about this law,” said Dennis Darnoi, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Bishop, who helped sponsor the law. “There's definitely concern too much time has passed.”