- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

Groups with a stake in the debate over antispam legislation are making late-hour efforts to sway Congress to pass or reject a bill that would regulate unwanted e-mail.

The Direct Marketing Association, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies placed an advertisement Thursday in Roll Call Magazine urging the House to pass legislation as soon as possible.

“Immediate action is required to go after the bad guys on spam and avert a crisis that will bring legitimate electronic commerce to a screeching halt,” the groups wrote.

The marketers’ advertisement followed a Nov. 4 letter sent to the House by eight attorneys general, including those from Virginia and Maryland, criticizing the Can-Spam Act, a bill passed by the Senate last month that would ban the most deceptive e-mail advertisements.

“Unfortunately, in its current form, the bill creates so many loopholes, exceptions and high standards of proof, that it creates too many burdens for effective enforcement,” the attorneys general said. “We respectfully request that you not move forward with [the Can-Spam Act] and ask you consider a bill that has more protections for consumers and businesses.”

The House is expected to pass some form of antispam legislation, perhaps as soon as today, sources close to the discussions said.

House lawmakers could approve or amend the Can-Spam Act, or pass a separate bill entirely. Efforts in the House are being led by Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Spam generally is considered unsolicited commercial e-mail. It makes up more than half of all e-mail sent, and is often deceptive or fraudulent. Spam is being sent increasingly by people who shield their identities to escape prosecution. Technology analysts say spam costs businesses tens of billions of dollars annually in services and lost productivity.

Direct marketers want a unified, national antispam law. States, however, want to protect their own laws, many of which are more stringent than anything Congress has discussed. A national law would pre-empt most of the spam restrictions enacted by 37 states.

Antispam advocates insist that all unsolicited e-mail should be labeled as spam and outlawed accordingly. Marketers argue that only the most deceptive unsolicited messages are spam, and that legitimate unsolicited e-mail should be permitted.

Marketers say it is difficult to comply with myriad state laws and impossible to determine the destination of an e-mail message. Most state laws target deceptive practices, such as misleading subject lines, false product claims or phony return addresses. Other laws, like one enacted in California, ban unsolicited e-mail altogether.

“You can’t have 50 states, all with different laws,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.

But antispam advocates said marketers should have no problem abiding by the state laws if they send e-mail messages only to people who want them.

“I would think that if a person is operating a legitimate business, they have nothing to fear,” said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore.

California state Sen. Debra Bowen, a Democrat who helped craft the California antispam legislation, offered a stiff rebuke to marketers Thursday.

“Advertisers love the congressional bills because they don’t can spam, they legalize it,” Miss Bowen said. “There’s no such thing as ‘good spam’ and ‘bad spam.”

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