- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The Federal Trade Commission has told supporters of a national “Do Not Spam” registry that it is resolving many of the technical issues in creating such a list, including how to keep it secure.

The commission met informally this week with at least one company that has filed a patent for the technology to secure the list, and sponsors of registry legislation said support for their proposals is growing.

Meanwhile, a survey released yesterday showed about 75 percent of Internet users support the creation of a “Do Not Spam” list as a way of dealing with the barrage of unsolicited e-mail.

Supporters of the list said both the FTC’s comments and the survey bolster the case for a federal law mandating a list similar to the “Do Not Call” list implemented by the FTC last month.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who has proposed such legislation, said he was told this week by members of the FTC that creating the list was possible.

“We’ve shown that technically, we can secure the list,” Mr. Schumer said.

Yesterday, FTC spokesman Claudia Bourne Farrell said “there has been some progress in sorting out some of the technical issues in creating the list,” but said there is still work to be done, and that the commission is not ready to support its creation.

Mr. Schumer said a recent survey from EPrivacy Group of Philadelphia and the Ponemon Institute lends further support for the legislation. Of the 1,042 adults who responded, 776 said they wanted a federal “Do Not Spam” list. In addition, 835 of 1,051 respondents said unwanted e-mail should be banned or limited by law.

“This really bolsters the argument that I’ve been making for a more comprehensive approach to the spam problem,” Mr. Schumer said.

Spam is generally considered any unsolicited commercial e-mail, and is often deceptive, pornographic or both. Internet users receive millions of spam e-mails per day, costing businesses as much as $10 billion each year in services and lost productivity, according to Ferris Research.

Vincent J. Schiavone, president and chief executive of EPrivacy Group, said the survey results indicate most people do not support legislation allowing consumers to opt out of future e-mails from a spammer, because they have conditioned themselves not to reply to spam. Several bills under discussion in the House call for an opt-out provision, in which computer users would have to e-mail the spammers to be taken off their lists.

“A large percentage of consumers do not support opt-out,” said Mr. Schiavone, whose group says a “Do Not Spam” registry is possible. “Opt-out is broken.”

Congress is discussing about a dozen anti-spam bills. The CAN-SPAM Act, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, asks the FTC to look into the feasibility of a “Do Not Spam” list, and calls for stiff penalties for deceptive spammers. The Senate Commerce Committee passed the bill in June.

But Mr. Schumer said he was working to include his proposal to mandate a “Do Not Spam” list in the CAN-SPAM Act, or push for passage of his own bill, known as the Spam Act. The Spam Act would require the “Do Not Spam” list be created and would allow citizens to sue spammers who ignore the list.

Congressional staffers said it was unlikely a bill in either house would come up for a vote until after the August recess.

Many groups including the Information Technology Association of America, the Direct Marketing Association and companies like Microsoft and AOL have fought against a “Do Not Spam” list, arguing it would hinder the marketing ability of legitimate businesses.

The FTC has not voiced an opinion on any specific piece of legislation and has not publicly supported the creation of a “Do Not Spam” list.

The commission said two weeks ago that such a list was an “interesting idea” but that it was not clear how it could make it secure and workable.

The “Do Not Spam” list, while identical in principle to the “Do Not Call” list, is more difficult to create because the relationship between the sender and recipient of an e-mail is not as direct as that from a telemarketer to telephone user. Opponents of a “Do Not Spam” list have said the list could be hijacked by spammers, who would use it to send more spam.

Matthew Prince, chief executive of Unspam, a small Chicago company that has filed a patent for the technology to make a “Do Not Spam” list secure, said he met with FTC members Tuesday. Mr. Prince refused to discuss specifics of the meeting except to say that it “went very well” and that he was under the impression the FTC believed the list could be created.

“We’re happy that they believe it can be technically possible,” Mr. Prince said.

Ms. Farrell declined to speak about specific meetings and said only that the FTC will continue to meet with “all stakeholders” in the debate.

It is not clear whether the FTC will partner with Unspam in creating the registry, but Mr. Prince said his company would be open to doing so.

Even if the list were created, few people predict it would eliminate all spam. Many spammers will ignore the list, putting a burden on the FTC to enforce it. Also, many spammers operate overseas.

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