Public Safety & Justice

New Jersey Bill to Protect Minors Online Mirrors New, Controversial California Law

November 19, 2013

It’s an all-too-familiar problem in the internet age.

Teenagers who put embarrassing information online — whether it’s a racy photo or an ill-advised rant — can find that mistake haunting them as they get older and wiser, visible to college admissions officers and potential employers.

Now one New Jersey lawmaker wants to give those kids a chance to take it all back.

"They exercise poor judgment sometimes. They say things or do things they quickly regret and wish they haven’t done them or said them," said state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer).

Turner has introduced a bill (S3018) that would require the operators of websites and online applications to give minors the option to delete posts they’ve come to regret.

"This is one way for them to hit the delete button," Turner said.

But the far-reaching bill doesn’t stop there. It also bans websites from targeting minors with ads for 14 different products and services, from tanning to guns to cigarettes to porn. Websites would be in compliance with the law if they takes "reasonable actions in good faith designed to avoid marketing or advertising" the products to kids.

All this has critics wondering if Turner’s bill would be practical, enforceable or even constitutional.

"There is a real mess here," said Eric M. Bernstein, a New Jersey attorney who specializes in internet law. "It’s going to be overly broad and very difficult to enforce."

The bill is modeled after a controversial new California law that was signed in September. But since the ink is barely dry on California Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature and the law has yet to go into effect, no one knows if it’s going to work.

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