- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Senate last night unanimously passed a bill designed to crack down on some of the most egregious forms of spam while calling for the Federal Trade Commission to look into the feasibility of a national “do not e-mail” registry.

Lawmakers yesterday touted the provisions outlined in the antispam bill, which would allow the government to impose penalties of up to $1 million and one year in jail for anyone sending e-mail advertisements with fraudulent or deceptive information.

The House also is working on an antispam legislation, but representatives have not reached consensus. Some form of such a bill is expected to be approved by both chambers, observers say. If President Bush signs it, it would be the first of its kind at the federal level.

Any unsolicited commercial e-mail, usually sent in bulk, is generally considered spam. It makes up nearly half of all e-mail circulating on the Internet worldwide and costs businesses as much as $10 billion each year in services and lost productivity, according to Ferris Research.

The Senate bill, which passed 97-0, 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 FTC has said that such advertisements make up more than three-fourths of all spam.

Marketers who send unsolicited e-mail that is not deceptive and that allows recipients to “opt out” of receiving such messages would be protected.

Sens. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, and Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, sponsored a more basic version of the measure earlier this year. In recent weeks, the bill was combined with proposals from several other senators, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who called for the creation of a “do not e-mail” registry.

The legislation would give the FTC six months to examine whether a national “do not e-mail” list can be created and enforced. The agency would have an additional three months to implement it.

“This is the best way to get at spam,” Mr. Schumer said. “Let’s finally do something about one of the greatest technological problems we face in this country.”

The FTC has said it can create such a registry securely, but added that it sees no way that the list can be effective, given the difficulty in tracking down most spammers. The agency said a “do not e-mail” registry cannot be implemented in the same way as the recently created “do not call” list designed to fend off telemarketers, because there are major technological differences between telephone calls and e-mail.

Senators yesterday conceded that the legislation probably will not be able to make a serious dent in the spam problem, mainly because spammers have used techniques that allow them to send e-mail without being traced.

“The odds of us defeating spam by legislation alone are very low,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “But that there is no silver bullet does not mean we should sit idly by.”

The law will be successful only if there are strong efforts to enforce it, senators said. They acknowledged that state antispam laws have been ineffective, partly because law-enforcement officials have not devoted time and resources to pursue spammers.

“We need to have a handful of actions very quickly to establish for the first time that there will be a deterrent … there will be real-time consequences,” Mr. Wyden said.

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