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THE INTERNET LAW AND POLICY FORUM WORKING GROUP ON CONTENT BLOCKING

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F. False, Fraudulent Or Misleading Consumer Information.

Russia

On December 14 1996, America Online Inc. ("AOL") cut direct access for its users in Russia by blocking local phone numbers as too many people were signing onto the service using stolen credit cards and other fraudulent means. By January 13 1997, AOL had shut down its service across the whole of Russia due to credit card fraud and as yet, it is not known whether the service will be restored.

The new criminal code imposes a prison sentence of between two and six years for "manufacturing false credit or payment cards for the purpose of fraud", but this does not provide for electronic or telephone fraud. There are also fines for disruption and misuse of computer networks but these also do not include electronic or telephone fraud.

United Kingdom

The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") seems recently to have extended its authority to cover the World Wide Web. It has upheld an objection to the Cable Communication Association's Internet advertisement about its positioning of fibre-optic cabling in a diagram.

There are those that say monitoring the advertising on the Internet is impossible but the ASA is a proponent of self-regulation of the industry. Caroline Crawford, director of communications, says that if the Internet wants to be seen as a credible medium, then it must adhere to the industry's codes - "the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion".

United States

Virgin Atlantic Airways were fined $14,000 in November 1995 to the US Department of Transport for putting misleading advertising on the Internet. In fact, the company failed to update an airfare but this could have far-reaching implications.

The White House has drafted a framework outlining a market-oriented policy for the Internet. It includes online transactions, including tariffs, e-cash, domain name trademarks and key recovery. The aim is to avoid tariffs being imposed on Internet transactions and also to attempt to ensure that keys for encrypted products be stored with the government or other trusted third parties.

California

A bill to protect consumers from Internet fraud introduced last year by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, was signed in September 1996 and came into effect on January 1st 1997. The law includes provisions for telephone, mail-order and catalogue sales operators to online vendors. Vendors must supply their refund policies, address and contact information before accepting a customer=s money. This should enable customers to complain and resolve disputes. Vendors who do not send goods or give refunds within the times stated in their policies are subject to prosecution and can receive up to six months in prison or a fine of $1,000.

Georgia

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Atlanta to challenge a Georgia law that forbids anonymity online. They argue that the statute is unconstitutional. It also criminalises the unauthorised use of company names. The ACLU is using this lawsuit as part of their ongoing strategy to retain free speech on the Internet whereas the Democrats who introduced the law last Spring, claim it is to prevent fraud. Georgia's deputy attorney general, Daniel Formby, has also been quoted as saying that "You do not have to enter a state to violate its laws", issuing a warning that states will attempt to control commerce that takes place outside that state's borders.

Virginia

In an Alexandria, Virginia federal district court, a computer science student pleaded guilty to an offence under The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The student wrote software which enabled people to gain free access to AOL, but was caught by the Secret Service. He now faces a maximum of five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Although not strictly applicable to a content regulation study, this example shows how current law can adapt itself to dealing with the Internet.

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