- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

A British government official and members of the British Parliament said yesterday the lack of a U.S. law regulating unwanted e-mail is making enforcement of antispam laws internationally nearly impossible.

Andrew Pinder, the “e-envoy” for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, is an international problem and that the passage of laws in all affected countries would work to slow the barrage.

“When enforcing our antispam laws, we have to keep in mind that a lot of this stuff is international,” Mr. Pinder said. “This is a worldwide problem and most of the stuff goes across borders. We have to be able to cross borders to deal with it.”

Mr. Pinder made his remarks during a panel discussion called “International Challenges to Controlling Spam.” It was sponsored by the Forum on Technology and Innovation, a group led by Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican.

Spam makes up as much as half of all e-mail sent worldwide and costs businesses billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and services, according to several technology research groups.

Britain last month passed a law making spam illegal, following the lead of about a dozen other nations that have passed antispam laws in recent years. The United States, however, has failed to pass similar legislation despite evidence that as much as 90 percent of spam originates here.

Delays in approving antispam legislation in the United States have stemmed largely from fears that marketers would challenge the laws on First Amendment grounds. The United States is the only country with such broad free-speech protections.

Members of the panel yesterday included Howard Beales, the director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection; Chuck Curran, assistant general counsel to America Online; and Paul Judge, chief technology officer for CipherTrust Inc., an e-mail security company.

Panelists said legislation is needed to cut down on spam, but also that technology must be improved to prevent spammers from finding ways to operate anonymously.

Congress is considering about a dozen antispam bills, including a proposal called the Can Spam Act of 2003, sponsored by Mr. Wyden and Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, that would outlaw the most deceptive and fraudulent spam. It also would require e-mail marketers to allow consumers to “opt out” of receiving future solicitations.

The bill has faced criticism from nonprofit antispam groups, which have suggested legislation that would allow marketers to send e-mail only to those who “opt in” to receive them. The “opt in” approach is the basis for the British antispam law.

Members of British Parliament yesterday said the “opt in” approach is preferable but they would support Can Spam or any other anti-spam bill in Congress.

“Even a flawed law is better than no law at all,” said Brian White, a member of the House of Commons and the All Party Internet Group, which works with technology industry groups in advising Mr. Pinder and the rest of Parliament.

Members of Parliament, while sifting through bound copies of the U.S. Constitution, said they saw no reason why a law requiring an “opt in” provision couldn’t pass muster.

“The question you need to ask yourself is did the authors of this intend it to allow people to bombard your home with obscene pornography?” said Andrew Miller, a member of the House of Commons, who also serves on the All Party Internet Group.


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