- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The federal government yesterday said it will not create a national “do not e-mail” registry, arguing that the proposal would not stop the flow of spam and would possibly make it worse.

In a report requested by Congress, the Federal Trade Commission said the registry would be too difficult to maintain efficiently, and that the worst “spammers” would simply use the list as a database of valid e-mail addresses.

“I wouldn’t put my e-mail address on the registry, and I wouldn’t advise consumers to do so either,” FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said. “Consumers will be spammed if they do and spammed if they don’t.”

Spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, makes up more than two-thirds of all e-mail sent worldwide, costing businesses tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and services. President Bush in December signed the federal Can-Spam Act, which banned the most fraudulent kinds of spam and asked the FTC to explore the feasibility of a “do not e-mail” registry.

The registry idea was modeled after the national Do Not Call Registry, which went into effect in October and has cut down on the number of unwanted phone call solicitations to consumers. But the FTC said comparisons to the Do Not Call Registry are inaccurate, because most spammers can not be found as easily as telemarketers.

The commission said it would reconsider creating the list if there were a way to authenticate the origin of e-mail messages. Several companies including Yahoo, America Online and Microsoft are working on such standards, and the FTC said it will host a summit on the topic this fall.

“We found that a ‘do not e-mail’ registry would be inefficient and burdensome for consumers, but at the same time, proposals that allow for authentication show signs of promise,” Mr. Muris said.

The registry concept has heavy public support. Research firm Insight Express last year said more than 80 percent of e-mail users favored a “do not e-mail” list, and a survey released this week of 141 corporate chief information officers revealed 78 supported the plan. But, the proposal faced stiff opposition from direct marketers who said it would hurt business.

Congress could require the FTC to create the registry. It is more likely that states will now pursue “do not e-mail” registries of their own, legal experts said. The Utah Legislature in April passed a bill to create a registry of children’s e-mail addresses, and lawmakers in Michigan are expected to pass a similar bill as early as this month.

Supporters of the “do not e-mail” registry said arguments against the list are similar to those made against the national Do Not Call Registry in the early 1990s. After resistance from the Federal Communications Commission and Congress over a federal Do Not Call Registry, nearly every state went on to create a list of its own. The federal registry was finally created last year.

“The FTC should remember that they also resisted the Do Not Call Registry, but when they finally implemented it, it was an overwhelming success,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who pushed to include the registry proposal in the Can-Spam Act.

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