- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Congress moved closer to approving the first federal law outlawing unsolicited commercial e-mail late yesterday when the House passed an antispam bill.

“This is a huge piece of consumer-protection legislation,” Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said before a voice vote approving the measure.

The Senate passed a similar measure last month, and House and Senate negotiators yesterday reached agreement on the bill approved by the House.

The Senate is expected to approve changes to the bill next week before it is sent to the president.

The House antispam bill would allow spammers to send unsolicited e-mail to consumers until they ask the business to stop. Spammers would face penalties if they ignore the requests.

Consumer groups said that opt-out approach will do little to address the flood of spam because it places the burden on consumers to contact marketers when they don’t want to receive e-mail.

Lawmakers should assume consumers don’t want to receive spam unless they contact marketers and ask for the e-mail pitches, or opt in, said Laura Atkins, president of SpamCon Foundation, a group opposing spam.

“Anything less is consumer unfriendly,” she said.

But lawmakers argued the spam law is significant.

For the first time, consumers would be able to tell companies to stop sending unsolicited commercial e-mail, said Rep. Heather A. Wilson, the New Mexico Republican who was among the first to draw attention to spam more than four years ago.

“We put together a good bill,” she said during debate on the House floor.

The measure approved by the House also gives the Federal Trade Commission authority to set up a “do-not-spam” registry similar to the agency’s “do-not-call” list that lets consumers block telemarketing calls.

FTC Chairman Timothy Muris has said he doesn’t think a “do-not-spam” registry will be effective because spammers can easily hide their identities and cross international borders.

But yesterday he vowed to help Congress fight spam.

“Congress today has taken a positive step in the fight to combat spam. Although legislation alone will not cure the spam problem, the commission is looking forward to working with the Congress … on this issue,” Mr. Muris said.

Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, agreed during debate on the House floor that the legislation won’t stop all spam, but he said it’s a good first step.

The legislation require spammers to include a legitimate return address.

It also requires pornographic e-mails to have labels warning about their sexually explicit content.

Spammers face fines of up to $6 million and five years in prison for intentionally violating the law.

Lawmakers raced to pass an antispam measure before recessing next week and before a California law takes effect Jan. 1 that online marketers complain will make it difficult to do business.

Mr. Tauzin and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led efforts to draft the compromise bill lawmakers approved yesterday.

Both men floated spam bills earlier this year. So have other lawmakers, but federal spam legislation has remained elusive.

The House version comes a month after the Senate passed an antispam measure by 97-0 vote. But that bill is viewed as too weak to be effective. The Senate bill would not ban all spam but would make it illegal to send an e-mail advertisement with a deceptive or fraudulent subject line or message.

The House’s antispam bill also prohibits sending fraudulent e-mail, and people who violate the measure face five years in prison.

Advertisers said yesterday they favored the House version and applauded lawmakers for pushing the legislation through.

“I’m very glad Congress has decided this is an issue of significance to be moved on now,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, a group of 350 companies that spend $100 billion annually on advertising.

Companies that send legitimate e-mail advertisements endorse laws prohibiting spam because the proliferation of deceptive and fraudulent e-mail makes it harder for them to reach consumers.

A single federal law would simplify a legislative landscape that is complicated by 37 state spam laws, Mr. Jaffe said.

Advertisers also want to pre-empt the California law. That measure would prohibit companies from sending an e-mail to a consumer who is not already a customer.

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