- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

Maryland consumers tired of finding their electronic mailboxes stuffed with unwanted pitches for amazing cancer cures and weary of opening advertisements that claim to be messages from old friends should get some welcome relief.
A new state law that takes effect tomorrow is intended to limit unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, which accounted for almost half of all electronic messages last year. Despite the legislation, politicians, e-mail marketers and Internet service providers (ISP) who support reining in spammers believe that stopping the electronic junk mail will be difficult.
"If we haven't done it perfectly, we've certainly made a start," said Delegate Joan Pitkin, the Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Maryland General Assembly.
Maryland becomes the 26th state with some form of law regulating spam. Virginia passed an anti-spam law in 1999. The District hasn't taken similar measures. Spam hasn't been outlawed because the First Amendment upholds spammers' rights to free speech, and unsolicited commercial e-mail is legal unless it makes fraudulent claims.
The new Maryland law requires that information in the subject line of an unsolicited commercial e-mail be accurate.
"It's going to help stop those e-mails with a subject line that says something like 'It's Aunt Ida,' and really it's deceptive spam," Maryland Assistant Attorney General Steve Sakamoto-Wengel said.
The new law also prohibits sending unsolicited commercial e-mail that deliberately hides the identity of a sender by using a third party's domain name without permission.
Spammers also will be prohibited from using false routing information or omitting the data altogether. Routing information is intended to trace the origin of e-mail.
The law gives consumers and Internet service providers the right to sue people who send deceptive spam. Consumers could collect up to $500 from spammers and ISPs could collect up to $1,000. It remains to be seen whether people will be willing to take the time to file complaints and track down deceptive spammers.
"That's not going to be easy, but we think some people will be successful. With the help of ISPs, they will be able to track some [spammers] down," Mr. Sakamoto-Wengel said.
Even some ISPs are unlikely to spend time filing complaints and tracking down spammers unless the frequency of spam from a specific address warrants action, said David Troy, chief executive of ToadNet, an ISP in Severna Park, Md.
"Singling out one person is very difficult," Mr. Troy said. "Frankly, I don't see it happening."
The new law applies to spam if the unsolicited commercial e-mail is sent from Maryland or if the spammer knows the recipient is in Maryland.
Legitimate e-mail marketers hope the legislation will help them by weeding out unwanted e-mail from messages consumers have said, by agreeing to opt-in clauses, they want to receive.
"There's so much noise out there, legitimate e-mails get lost in the shuffle," said Kim MacPherson, president of Rockville e-mail marketing company Inbox Interactive Inc.
Maryland's law takes effect as unsolicited commercial e-mail continues to proliferate.
U.S. consumers received more than 140 billion spam messages in 2001, according to a report last week by Jupiter Research. Spam accounted for 46 percent of the 261 billion e-mail messages sent last year. An estimated 645 billion spam e-mail messages will be delivered by 2007, Jupiter said in its report.
Subscribers to Microsoft Corp.'s Hotmail e-mail service are among the hardest hit. Hotmail subscribers receive more than 1 billion junk e-mail messages annually, despite Hotmail's use of filters.
The Federal Trade Commission receives 50,000 examples of spam daily from consumers who file complaints about the problem, and it has 18 million examples of unsolicited commercial e-mail in its spam database, said Brian Huseman, a staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission's bureau of consumer protection.
The agency prosecutes spammers under the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits deceptive and unfair trade practices, but there is no federal law dealing solely with spam.
Despite Maryland's new law, many are skeptical the legislation will prevent deceptive spam because of the difficulty of tracking down people who send the messages. Software is available to alter e-mail message data to hide a spammers' origin.
"I think they will bank on not getting caught," Mr. Troy said.
Critics say a federal law is needed to help consumers wage their battle against spam.
"This will help a little bit, but the law really needs to be national," Ms. MacPherson said. "You have to start someplace."

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