Friday, October 25, 2013

California Ups the Ante On Privacy Policy Disclosures

For the past decade, California law has set the template for commercial website privacy policies.  With the passage of a new law, set to take effect January 1, 2014, the state has updated the disclosures required of any commercial website operator who collects personally identifiable information from California residents.

California’s Online Privacy Protection Act.   In 2003, California became the only state to require all websites that collect personal information (“PII”) from visitors – in this case, California residents – to post a privacy policy.   Until then, there was no generally applicable privacy policy requirement under either state or federal law, and, to this day, neither the other states nor the federal government have imposed such a requirement.  Federal privacy policy requirements have been limited to specific kinds of information (such as under Children’s Privacy Protection Act) or industries (under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).  Under the 2003 law, Internet sites need to identify the “categories” of personally identifiable information collected about “individual consumers”; describe the “categories” of third parties with whom the information may be shared; disclose (if there is one) any process for individuals to review or request changes to their personal information; explain how notice is given to consumers of changes in the privacy policy; and post the policy’s effective date. The definition of PII is more expansive than encountered in data breach statutes, and includes email addresses, partial addresses (including street names and towns), and first and last names.  The privacy policy also must be “conspicuously” posted, as defined by the statute.

Now, however, the law has been significantly expanded.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Illinois Supreme Court Rules Illinois “Click Through” Nexus Statute Is Void And Preempted By Federal Law

The Illinois Supreme Court issued its decision today in Performance Marketing Association v. Hamer, ruling that the Illinois “affiliate nexus” (also known as “click-through nexus”) law is “void and unenforceable” because it is preempted by federal law. Brann & Isaacson partners George Isaacson and Matthew Schaefer represented the PMA in this case, and Isaacson argued the case before the Illinois Supreme Court on May 22, 2013. The case was on appeal from the Circuit Court, which had had held that the affiliate nexus law was an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause, and was also preempted by the Internet Tax Freedom Act (“ITFA”), because it impermissibly discriminated against electronic commerce. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the Illinois Supreme Court based its holding on a violation of the ITFA, and did not reach the Constitutional argument.

The Illinois law had purported to impose a use tax collection obligation on any out-of-state retailer or serviceman who had a contract with a person located in Illinois that paid a commission based on sales generated from referral links placed on that person’s website, provided the retailer realized a minimum in $10,000 in sales to customers through such links. Under the Internet Tax Freedom Act, states are prohibited from imposing “discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.” A discriminatory tax is defined as a tax that “imposes an obligation to collect or pay tax on a different person or entity than in the case of transactions involving similar property, goods, services, or information accomplished through other means.” 47 U.S.C. §151 note.

The ruling is a significant victory for online retailers, and for the Illinois individuals who generate income through affiliate links.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Litigation News: Colorado and Cook County Update

We have written frequently about the DMA case challenging Colorado’s notice and reporting law. The law, which requires remote sellers to inform consumers of their obligation to self-report sales and use tax and which also requires sellers to hand over Colorado customers’ names to the state’s Department of Revenue, was declared unconstitutional in 2012 by the United States District Court in Denver. See DMA v. Brohl, 2012 WL 1079175 (D. Colo. Mar. 30, 2012). The Court issued an injunction barring enforcement of the law. But, in August, the Tenth Circuit found that the District Court did not have jurisdiction over the case, and issued a decision calling for the case to be remanded to the District Court with instructions to dissolve the injunction. The DMA subsequently filed a petition for rehearing en banc by the Tenth Circuit, thereby staying implementation of the decision. But, on October 1, that petition was denied. As a result, the Court of Appeals’ mandate was issued on October 9. The District Court has not yet implemented the Tenth Circuit’s order, however, so for the time being the injunction remains in place--at least until the District Court acts. In response to the ruling, the DMA intends to refile its challenge to the law in state court in Colorado and seek a new injunction from the state court to prevent enforcement of a law that the federal District Court has found to be unconstitutional on its face. Brann & Isaacson’s George Isaacson and Matthew Schaefer represent the DMA in the case.

Meanwhile, we wrote in July about Judge Lopez Cepero of the Cook County Circuit Court issuing a preliminary injunction which barred Cook County from enforcing its recently enacted use tax. On October 4, the Appellate Court stayed the preliminary injunction, but on October 8, Judge Lopez Cepero granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. The judge’s ruling will be issued in written form today and effectively is a permanent injunction barring Cook County from enforcing the use tax. It remains uncertain, however, whether the County will appeal this decision.

We will continue to update our readers on these and other cases throughout the country.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Beware of Taxation of Advertising Inserts

During the last legislative session in Maine, the legislature approved, and Governor Lepage signed, a bill to eliminate the exemption from the sales tax for publications. L.D. 1509, 126th Legs., Part P, (Me. 2013). This law went into effect yesterday. The law now requires the taxation of magazines and newspapers. The sleeping dog, however, is the taxation of advertising flyers and other free publications.

Taxation of free advertising materials has become a “hot button” issue in Maine. In an Informational Notice dated September 27, 2013, Maine Revenue Services stated that the costs of printing advertising flyers, including those inserted in newspapers, are now subject to the sales tax if those materials are distributed in Maine. In other words, the publisher will be required to pay a use tax, either to its printer or directly to the state, on the printing charges for advertising flyers.