Watch for 3 legal issues next year

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During 2007, familiar issues are poised to have the largest impact on the direct marketing industry. Net Neutrality, increased privacy regulation and do not mail legislation at the state level will be the year's big issues.

How each of these issues will play out is unclear, but whatever happens, these issues will impact the way direct marketers do business.

Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality, which would regulate the relationship between broadband network operators and content providers such as Internet retailers, was a contentious issue in the 109th Congress.

The COPE Act included a Net Neutrality provision that supporters found too weak. Although the bill overwhelmingly passed the House, it failed to reach the Senate floor, largely because of controversy surrounding the issue.

Net Neutrality will probably be raised in the next Congress since its most active supporters are Democratic leaders of key committees. However, passage is far from certain because the issue remains controversial, even amongst many key Democratic legislators.

Privacy legislation. Protection of consumers' personal information and privacy will continue to receive public and legislative attention throughout 2007.

President Bush's Identity Theft Task Force on Feb. 9 will release its report. The report focuses on the executive branch of government and what it can do to improve education about and protection against identity theft.

This report will likely serve as a catalyst for the initiation of Congressional deliberations early in 2007, paving the way for new data security and security breach notification legislation.

Do not mail. During 2006, bills seeking to create statewide do not mail lists were introduced in Missouri, New Jersey and New York. None of the bills passed, but it is clear that efforts to enact no-mail legislation will not go away.

In fact, the industry may see the first passage of a state do not mail law in 2007. While an effort to enact federal legislation allowing consumers to opt out of direct mailings in 2007 cannot be discounted, operating within a patchwork of arbitrary and highly punitive state laws would prove much more onerous to the direct marketing industry.

Grassroots outreach to state lawmakers educating them about the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service, which already provides consumers with an easy way to remove themselves from mailing lists, may be the best defense against these bills.

As we move into 2007, the industry faces challenges to its ability to conduct business on a level playing field. Over the years, we have proven ourselves able to change with the times and capable of defending our rights. The coming year will demand no less.

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