- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Lawmakers in Maryland are pushing legislation that would enact tough criminal penalties against people who send the most fraudulent kinds of unwanted e-mail, or spam.

Under the Maryland Spam Control Act, offenders could face up to five years in prison and $25,000 in fines for sending spam with false lead-in information or misleading advertising.

The bill, written by Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat, and Rep. Neil Quinter, Howard County Democrat, was presented to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday.

“Spam is clearly a huge problem,” Mr. Garagiola said. “This gives us more tools in the tool box.”

Most of the spam covered by the proposed legislation is already illegal under Maryland’s existing anti-spam law. But the new bill would expand the scope of what can be considered illegal, and would enact criminal penalties for repeat offenders. It would also allow the state to seize any equipment used in spam operations and any money collected from spamming activities.

Maryland’s existing bill calls for fines of up to $1,000.

The proposed legislation is modeled after Virginia’s anti-spam law, which is considered one of the strongest in the country. Virginia officials in January used the state’s anti-spam statute to arrest two North Carolina men they believe masterminded one of the largest spam operations in the world.

In a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times yesterday, Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore said he supported Maryland’s efforts and had provided suggestions and input on how to craft the bill.

“It’s very important for a law to have civil and criminal penalties at the same time,” Mr. Kilgore said. “You have to have the criminal side.”

Spam makes up more than half of all e-mail sent worldwide, and usually consists of fraudulent advertisements for pornography, business opportunities or mortgage loan services. It costs businesses more than $10 billion in services and lost productivity, according to some estimates.

The nation’s first federal junk e-mail law, known as Can-Spam, was enacted Jan. 1. It has many of the same provisions that exist in Virginia’s law and the legislation proposed in Maryland. Many spam foes criticized the Can-Spam law for not being strong enough and for pre-empting many state laws. But if the proposed Maryland law is similar to Virginia’s law, it would not be pre-empted.

So far, the Maryland Spam Control Act has faced no opposition in the legislature, and has received some key endorsements. Sterling, Va.-based AOL, the world’s largest internet provider, and Microsoft, owner of the MSN Internet and Hotmail e-mail services, issued statements in favor of the Maryland legislation yesterday. AOL was instrumental in drafting the Virginia law, and helped prosecutors catch the suspected North Carolina spammers after subscribers reported receiving spam from them.

AOL and Microsoft, along with Internet providers Earthlink and Yahoo, are expected to announce today the results of a joint collaboration to stop spam at its source.

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