- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Senate yesterday unanimously passed a measure that would ban the most prevalent kind of unwanted e-mail, paving the way for President Bush to sign the nation’s first federal antispam bill into law.

The CAN-SPAM Act, overwhelmingly passed by the House on Saturday, would make it illegal to send an e-mail advertisement to someone who has asked not to receive it, and mandates that the Federal Trade Commission look into the feasibility of a national “do-not-e-mail” registry.

The bill allows for up to five years in prison for the worst spammers, and empowers the government to seize computer equipment used by such offenders.

“Congress is saying that if you are a spammer, you will go to the slammer,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who helped push for the do-not-e-mail list. “No matter where you are or how hard you try to hide your spam, we will find you.”

Spam, or unsolicited e-mail advertising, makes up more than half of all e-mail sent worldwide. Technology analysts say spam drains more than $10 billion from businesses annually in lost productivity and services.

The Senate had passed a similar version of the CAN-SPAM Act last month. But House lawmakers negotiated changes to the bill, including those addressing the problem of spam sent to cell phones and other wireless devices.

Senate staffers said some basic clerical work remains to be done on the bill. It will be reviewed by the House next week before being sent to Mr. Bush.

The bill was widely supported by the technology and marketing industries, but opposed by some state attorneys general who feared that the measure would pre-empt state laws.

The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, a consumer group, said the bill was too weak and called on Congress to pass one similar to a law recently enacted in California, which bans all forms of spam.

The California law, which takes effect Jan. 1, is believed to have spurred Congress to move quickly to pass federal legislation. The direct marketing industry argued that the California law was too restrictive, and many U.S. lawmakers complained that such a measure violates free speech. Marketers and lawmakers also opposed provisions in the law that allowed citizens to sue spammers.

State Sen. Debra Bowen, a Democrat who sponsored the California bill, railed against Congress yesterday, calling the CAN-SPAM Act “the biggest turkey the president will see all week and he should stuff it the moment it lands on his desk.”

“The bill doesn’t can spam, it legalizes it,” Miss Bowen said. “Spam is spam; there’s no such thing as ‘good spam’ and ‘bad spam.’”

Critics have said legislation is unlikely to curb spam, because most spammers already violate fraud laws and have devised ways to operate without getting caught.

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