- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

President Bush yesterday asked Congress to provide $8.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission to help with its fight against the scourge of unwanted e-mail known as spam.

The agency would be able to hire 20 new staff members, allowing it to clarify some vague provisions in the recently enacted Can-Spam Act and increase its cooperation with law-enforcement officials in catching violators.

Portions of the $8.5 million also are expected to be used to address changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other programs for which the FTC previously had no official resources.

The $8.5 million is what the FTC had requested. About $6 million is set aside for studies and enforcement, and about $2.3 million would go toward the additional staff.

If Congress approves the request, the FTC’s budget in 2005 would increase to about $206 million from an estimated $187 million this year.

Spam, which generally is considered any kind of unsolicited e-mail advertisement, makes up more than half of all e-mail sent worldwide and costs businesses more than $10 billion annually, according to some estimates.

The Can-Spam Act bans the most deceptive kinds of spam, allowing for hefty fines against anyone who sends bulk e-mail with false subject lines or headers, or who uses a hijacked computer to send spam. About three-fourths of all spam is believed to fit in this category.

But the FTC is also required to research potential additions to the law, such as the feasibility of a “do not e-mail” registry, the labeling of certain kinds of commercial e-mail and a reward system for people who help catch spammers.

“The FTC has no less than six rule-making responsibilities of its own. It’s good to see that their request from a budget standpoint was not cut,” said Dan Koch, a former FTC attorney who is now with the Paley Rothman law firm in Bethesda.

Last week, the FTC announced a proposal to require special markings on any spam containing sexually oriented material.

The FTC has no money or resources officially assigned to deal with enforcement of the Can-Spam Act this year, because the fiscal 2004 budget was set long before the Can-Spam Act was signed in December.

“A year ago we did not have these responsibilities,” an FTC budget official said.

The granting of the budget request pleased people familiar with the FTC’s work, but some cautioned that enforcement of the Can-Spam Act will be effective only if it operates in conjunction with advancements in antispam technology.

“It’s certainly good news,” said Chris Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and a lead sponsor of the Can-Spam Act. Mr. Wyden has said repeatedly that the Can-Spam Act will be most effective if the FTC and law-enforcement agencies go after spammers quickly.

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