Bill to ban cybersquatting stalled in
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
After receiving unanimous approval from
the Idaho Senate on March 6, a bill that would prevent "political cybersquatting"
appears trapped in the House State Affairs committee.
"It appears that thereís some political
pressure to hold it," said the billís cosponsor, Senate Minority Leader Clint
But the source of the presumed pressure is
unclear, and the politician who has authority to give the bill a hearing or to
hold it indefinitely ignored the Mountain Expressí repeated attempts to obtain
House State Affairs Committee Chairman
Bill Deal, R-Nampa, did not return telephone calls last week inquiring about the
Stennett introduced the bill this winter
in an apparent response to his discovery last fall that a prominent Idaho
Republican Party appointee was "squatting" on a Web site bearing his name. The
bill, called the Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act, breezed to easy approval in
the Idaho Senate.
If made law, the bill would impose fines
up to $1,000 for each day a violation occurs and would enable a court to
transfer a domain name as part of any relief granted. Similar legislation was
passed in California in 2002.
"(Web site campaigning is) a practice of
free speech, and people ought not to be using that type of speech to interfere
with campaigns," Stennett said.
In the midst of campaigning for
re-election to his District 25 Senate seat last fall, Stennett discovered that
Idaho Republican Party Vice Chairman Latham Williams had registered the Web
A Sun Valley city councilman, Williams was recently appointed to the Idaho
Department of Parks and Recreation board of directors.
Williams defended the action last fall as
"political strategy" but declined to comment on it further. He was unavailable
for comment this week.
Although Williams registered the Web site
in May of last year for a period of two years, the site has not been used to
post any information nor can it be retrieved by typing the address into an
Internet browser address bar. A quick inquiry on
however, revealed that the site is still registered.
Nonetheless, Stennett said he had not
introduced the bill because of Williamsí actions, but because his constituents
suggested the idea.
The bill defines political cyberfraud as
intentionally redirecting access to a political Web site, intentionally
preventing or denying exit from a political Web site, registering a domain name
that is similar to another for a political Web site "with the intent to cause
confusion" or as intentionally preventing use of a domain name for a political
Web site "by registering and holding the domain name or by reselling itÖ"
Stennett said the bill is based on model
legislation from the National Conference of State Legislators, a forum for
lawmakers to research and share ideas.
"The World Wide Web is a unique arena for
the free and open exchange of ideas," states the bill. "Political cybersquatting
stifles that open exchange, thus undermining the essential element of our
A 1999 federal law allows people or
companies whose names or trademarks have been used in "bad faith" on the
Internet to sue for damages.
However, political cybersquatting appears
not to be illegal under the provisions of the federal statute. Last April,
Marylandís lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lost when the World
Intellectual Property Organizationís Arbitration and Mediation Center declined
to transfer Internet addresses bearing her name to her.
"The panel finds that the protection of an
individual politicianís name, no matter how famous, is outside the scope of the
policy since it is not connected with commercial exploitation," according to the
But that hasnít stopped states from taking
California enacted a law Jan. 1 outlawing
political cybersquatting. Violations in California include registering the
domain name of a political opponent on the Internet to set up a phony Web site,
or to resell it for financial gain.
Stennettís bill states:
"Political cybersquatting has the effect
of denying a voter access, or interfering with a voterís access, to information
that will enable the person to make a knowledgeable electoral decision.
"Political cybersquatting is the
equivalent of stealing campaign literature out of a voterís mailbox, because it
prevents a voter from accessing or being aware of particular electoral