- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Congress is unlikely to pass legislation regulating unwanted commercial e-mail this year, because lawmakers have yet to reach consensus on how to best fight spam.

Neither the House nor Senate has scheduled a vote on any of the half-dozen bills proposed, despite predictions from several lawmakers that spam regulation would become law before the end of the year.

Both houses of Congress are targeting an adjournment by the end of October.

“We’re still hopeful of moving a bill, but are not optimistic at this point,” said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is reviewing two proposals.

Lawmakers are divided on several issues, including whether federal legislation should pre-empt state law and whether individuals should have the right to sue spammers.

Unsolicited commercial e-mail costs businesses billions of dollars in lost productivity and services, many technology analysts say, and is one of the biggest complaints that lawmakers hear from constituents.

The battle against spam was a hot issue over the summer, when the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, that would outlaw many of the deceptive practices used by spammers.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, led an effort to create a national “do-not-spam” registry in the model of the do-not-call list designed to fend off telemarketers.

But Congress returned from its August recess to face new issues, including response to the massive power outage in the Northeast on Aug. 15.

Movement also slowed Aug. 19 when Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris criticized the crop of legislative proposals.

Last week, lawmakers turned their attention to the national do-not-call registry. Congress scrambled over two days to ensure that the registry became law after a judge’s ruling blocked it.

“That diverted a lot of our time and resources away from working on the spam issue,” Mr. Johnson said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, that allowed for stiff fines and jail time for anyone who hijacks a computer with intent to send spam.

Congress had planned to adjourn as early as this Friday, but is now expected to work until the end of the October. This could provide some time for a spam bill to reach a vote.

“Senator Wyden still thinks we can get a bill done before the end of the year,” said Chris Fitzgerald, spokesman for Mr. Wyden. “The level of frustration is so high that it should convince legislators that it’s time to act.”

Some privacy advocates said that simply passing legislation to have a law on the books could prove dangerous.

“This is a huge problem to solve,” said Matthew Prince, chief executive officer of Unspam, a Chicago-based company that has advocated a do-not-spam registry. “There’s a real debate between just doing something quickly and doing something well.”

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