The Internet and the law

In June of this year, the European Union (EU, London) proposed a plan that would require companies based outside its 15 member countries to charge a value-added tax on goods and services delivered with the help of the Internet to customers in the member countries. The proposal was designed to create a "level playing field" for taxing online goods and services.


In June of this year, the European Union (EU, London) proposed a plan that would require companies based outside its 15 member countries to charge a value-added tax on goods and services delivered with the help of the Internet to customers in the member countries. The proposal was designed to create a "level playing field" for taxing online goods and services.

The proposal, of course, drew protest, especially from the U.S., which cited that the taxes applied to goods and services bought online would be higher than taxes on the same items bought through other means.

Yes, even the Internet is not immune to taxation. In fact, as Internet prevalence and use continues to grow, so does legislation related to it.

Internet legislation

Several bills have been proposed or passed in the U.S. related to the Internet and its use, including the following major legislative initiatives:

  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, enacted in 1984 and revised in 1994, makes certain attempts to access government computers illegal—including willingly accessing such computers without authorization or exceeding authorized access to the computers.

  • The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), passed in 1986, sought to provide legislation for access, use, disclosure, interception, and privacy protections of wire and electronic communications. The ECPA prohibits unlawful access and certain disclosures of communication contents, and prevents the government from requiring disclosure of electronic communications from a provider without proper procedure.

  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996 became the first major overhaul of communications law in more than 62 years. The Telecommunications Act sought to legislate many aspects of telecommunications services, including network and cable television, radio, phone service, and Internet connectivity. It also sought to regulate the content passed over these media, through such initiatives as the "V-Chip" for parental control of television programming. The Supreme Court eventually struck down portions of the Telecommunications Act relating to censorship, deeming them in violation of the First Amendment.

  • The Communications Decency Act, voted down in 1997, sought to regulate content deemed "inappropriate" for younger Internet users by issuing a penalty to anyone who knowingly distributed such content in a place where minors could access it or with the intent to harass others.

  • In 1998, the U.S. established the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which prohibits any state or local government from taxing Internet use or e-commerce until the year 2001.

  • The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), enacted Nov. 29, 1999, is an amendment to the Lanham Act for trademarks. The ACPA provides trademark owners protection from "cybersquatting," or registering another's trademark as a domain name, then profiting from the sale of the domain name to the owner of the trademark.

Stopping spam

Anyone with an e-mail address has almost certainly received some type of "spam"—unsolicted e-mail sent to multiple recipients, usually designed to sell a product or service. The use of spam has become so problematic that many legislators are seeking to pass some type of law that will limit or prohibit spam. Some anti-spam bills currently being proposed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are:

  • The Miller Bill (HR 2612);

  • The Green Bill (HR 1910);

  • The Murkowski and Torricelli Bill (S 759);

  • The Wyden Bill (S 699); and

  • The Weygand Bill (HR 612).

Individual states with currently proposed anti-spam bills in their own Senates and Houses include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

For additional information and other issues in debate, see the websites in the sidebar.

Author Information

Laura Zurawski, web editor

For more Internet law information

Websites that provide information on Internet legislation include:

AOL's Legal Resources site:

CPT's page on Electronic Commerce:

eCommerce Business, Cahners Business Information:

KuesterLaw Technology Law Resource:

Software Industry Issues—Electronic Commerce:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) site:

Yahoo!'s directory of Internet law links:

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