Internet companies drop lawsuit against Maine’s ‘strongest-in-the-nation’ privacy law

The four major lobby groups representing the internet, cable and wireless industries have dropped a federal lawsuit challenging a Maine law passed in 2019 limiting their ability to collect and sell their customers’ personal information.

On Friday, America’s Communications Association, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and USTelecom dropped a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine where they sought an injunction that would prevent enforcement of the law.

The law was sponsored by then-Sen. Shenna Bellows, a Democrat who currently serves as Maine’s Secretary of State. It restricts internet service providers’ (ISPs) from using, disclosing or selling customer data without their permission. That includes data like browsing history, location, content of communications, as well as financial and health information. 

Maine’s law requiring customers to give permission is considered one of the toughest privacy standards in the country.

“Internet service providers dropped their lawsuit on Friday against Maine’s strongest-in-the-nation privacy protections,” Meagan Sway, policy director at the ACLU of Maine, tweeted in response to the announcement. “ISPs working in Maine still can’t collect and sell your personal info without asking your permission!”

The lobby groups claimed that the state law is an infringement of the industry’s First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs argued the Maine law “imposes unprecedented and unduly burdensome restrictions on ISPs’, and only ISPs’, protected speech,” while imposing no requirements on other companies that deliver services over the internet.

The announcement that the lawsuit would be dropped was heralded as a victory by Maine’s Attorney General Aaron Frey, whose office has defended the law in court since 2020.

In addition to dismissing their suit, the lobby groups agreed to reimburse the state for over $55,000 for the costs Frey’s office incurred over the last two and a half years.

“Maine’s Legislature wisely sought to protect Maine residents by restricting the disclosure and use of their most private and personal information,” Frey said in a statement. “Despite the army of industry lawyers organized against us, my office vigorously defended the law not only for the benefit of Maine residents, but also to pave the way for other states that can now follow Maine’s lead.”

Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria, Getty Images

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