The state House Appropriations Committee late last week passed a $2.5 million annual tax on Internet users in Louisiana. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell requested the money for an “Internet Crimes Investigations Fund.” Caldwell and legislators of both parties took the opportunity to grandstand about the dangers of online sex predators and position themselves as protectors of children.
In reality, serious child-porn rings are large national and international operations beyond the purview of state and local law enforcement agencies — no matter how high they jack local taxes. The FBI and and transnational organizations such as INTERPOL are best equipped to crackdown on real child-porn rings.
What makes this exercise even more futile is that the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act forbids states from taxing Internet use. Caldwell and company call the tax a “fee,” but this semantic game won’t keep the matter out of federal courts. Internet service providers such as Verizon and AT&T have objected to the bill, and litigation seems likely. Much, maybe all, of these new funds will likely be spent fighting the federal government and telecommunications companies in federal court.
“Internet crimes,” from fraud to child endangerment, are no different than any other crimes. The Attorney General’s office needs to prioritize within its exsting budget or just request more general funding if it really needs more computer forensic investigators. The scare campaign may a cheap way to score political points, but this illegal tax could ultimately cost Louisiana more than it brings in.