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For the week of February 19 - 25, 2003

News

Stennett bill would outlaw Web site fraud


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

In an apparent response to his discovery last fall that an Idaho Republican Party officer was "squatting" on a Web site bearing his name, Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, has introduced a bill that would outlaw the activity.

Stennett introduced the bill, called the Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act, in the Idaho Senate last week. It 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.

"(Web site campaigning is) a practice of free speech, and people ought not 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 and Sun Valley City Councilman Latham Williams had registered the Web site, clintstennett.com.

Stennett said he has not introduced the bill because of Williamsí actions, but because his constituents suggested the idea.

The bill defines political "cyberfrauding" as intentionally redirecting access to a political Web site, intentionally preventing or denying exist from a political Web site, regestering 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 it Ö "

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 democracy."

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 ruling.

But that hasnít stopped states from taking action.

California enacted a law Jan. 1 this year 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.

States Stennettís bill:

"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 information."

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