- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Lawmakers said yesterday they would try to combine the strengths of two antispam bills into a single piece of legislation that would allow consumers to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Members of two House subcommittees said they would push for legislation designed to reduce junk e-mail, while regulating spam sent to cell phones and other wireless devices.

“I think targeted legislation can help bring about a greater level of accountability to e-mail communications,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the House commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee. “This type of cross-committee cooperation is necessary in order to enact legislation on issues such as spam.”

Spam makes up nearly half of all e-mail sent. Businesses spend nearly $10 billion a year in lost production and efforts to stop it.

House members, speaking to a panel of Internet companies and consumer groups, said they would work to create a single bill inspired by the Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act (also called the RID Spam Act) and the Anti-Spam Act of 2003.

The RID Spam Act, sponsored by Reps. Richard M. Burr, North Carolina Republican, F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, and Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, would make deceptive spamming illegal, while requiring labeling of sexually graphic material.

It also would allow consumers to opt out of e-mails from online marketers and includes a provision to regulate e-mail marketing to cell phones.

The Anti-Spam Act of 2003, proposed by Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican, and Rep. Gene Green, Texas Democrat, has similar provisions but would require that a company comply with an opt-out request for itself and its subsidiaries. The bill does not address the issue of spam to wireless devices.

The two bills under discussion yesterday are among six measures lawmakers have presented to Congress. The Senate Commerce committee recently passed the CAN Spam Act, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, that would enact stiff penalties against deceptive spammers.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, also proposed a bill to create a “Do Not Spam” list similar to the “Do Not Call” registry implemented by the Federal Trade Commission last week.

Lawmakers said a bill with an opt-out clause would be the toughest anti-spam legislation to date, would have a good chance of passage in the House and would be unlikely to face a First Amendment challenge.

“The difference now is that we get a bill that makes it through the House of Representatives,” Mr. Stearns said. “We the American people want legislation that is signed into law, not a bill that dies a slow death.”

Neither measure discussed yesterday faced stiff opposition from the panel of witnesses testifying, which included representatives from Microsoft, America Online, Earthlink, Amazon.com and the Consumers Union.

Ira Rubinstein, associate general counsel for Microsoft, said his company would support any legislation that would encourage guidelines to separate spammers from law-abiding companies that use e-mail as a marketing tool.

The hearing involved the House telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee, as well as the commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee.

Consumers Union legislative counsel Chris Murray said his group supported the Anti-Spam Act of 2003 because it would give broader power to an opt-out clause.

Under that bill, recipients of unsolicited e-mail from one company could opt out of receiving e-mails from that company and all of its subsidiaries and divisions.

Mr. Burr inquired during the hearing about the feasibility of a “Do Not Spam” list.

J. Howard Beales, head of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said it was still not clear whether such a list was feasible.

“We think it’s an intriguing idea, but it’s not at all clear we can do it at this point,” Mr. Beales said.

He said the FTC is still looking at ways to prevent spammers from using such a list simply as a database to send more spam.

Antispam groups, including the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, have voiced their support for a “No Spam List” while criticizing all other proposals as being too weak.

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