- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

Internet providers, law-enforcement agencies and members of Congress yesterday defended the nation’s first antispam law, even though it so far has done little to stem the flow of unwanted e-mail.

Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said Americans should be patient and allow the Can-Span Act to work. And groups working to stop spammers — mainly companies that lobbied for passage of the law — said it provides plenty of tools to bring spammers to justice.

“The Can-Spam Act has provided some important enforcement tools in the fight against spam,” said Ted Leonis, vice chairman of Sterling, Va.-based America Online, the largest Internet service provider. “I believe we have made some substantial progress in combating spam.”

America Online, along with several other Internet providers, filed suit under the Can-Spam Act against hundreds of suspected spammers in March.

The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, bans the most fraudulent spam and requires marketers to heed a person’s request to stop receiving messages.

E-mail filtering company Postini reported that 83 percent of the e-mail sent in April was spam, up from 78 percent before the law was passed.

Some said the problem would be even worse if the antispam law had not been passed.

“Without the law, I think the spam rate would have increased even more,” Shinya Akamine, Postini’s president and chief executive officer, told the committee.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Timothy Muris told lawmakers that the new law helped bring criminal charges against two Detroit-area men accused of spamming.

But not everyone supports the law.

James Guest, president of the nonprofit Consumers Union advocacy group, said Congress should have passed antispam laws modeled after junk-fax laws, which ban marketers from contacting anyone without their permission.

Consumers Union also favors giving persons the right to sue spammers — a suggestion criticized by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the committee chairman. He said it would create a flurry of frivolous lawsuits brought by “opportunistic trial lawyers.”

Lawmakers said e-mail users should be patient and allow normal law-enforcement actions and antispam technologies to take hold.

“This is just the beginning,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation.

“This is just the start of efforts to drain the swamp.”

Mr. Wyden encouraged the FTC and FBI to move forward with more enforcement actions against spammers and said he supported legislation designed to help prosecute spammers working overseas.

The FTC still is working to clarify several provisions in the law. In June, it will issue a report to Congress regarding the possibility of a “do not e-mail” registry modeled after the Do-Not-Call list designed to address telemarketing phone calls.

And by the fall, the FTC must issue recommendations regarding a bounty system that would reward people for turning spammers in to authorities.

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission is considering rules addressing spam sent to wireless devices.

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