Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday signed the state’s first law designed to reduce unwanted e-mail, known as spam.

The Maryland Spam Deterrence Act is one of the toughest in the nation, allowing for fines of up to $25,000 and 10 years in jail for anyone sending spam with fraudulent advertising in Maryland.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, signed the act into law privately along with about 125 other pieces of legislation, and offered no comment.

Maryland’s General Assembly passed the antispam legislation unanimously last month.

“The new law will provide additional tools for state law enforcement to go after the most egregious spammers who use false or misleading information,” said Sen. Robert Garagiola, Montgomery County Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill.

Spam purveyors could be prosecuted under the law for sending 10 fraudulent, unsolicited commercial e-mail messages a day, 100 a month or 1,000 in one year.

The maximum jail time and fines would be reserved for anyone sending spam while also committing another crime, such as mail fraud or theft.

Under the new law, Internet-service providers are also permitted to file civil charges against spammers operating in Maryland or sending spam through e-mail servers located in the state. America Online, the world’s largest Internet-service provider, was a leading advocate of the bill. The Sterling, Va.-based company pushed for similar legislation enacted last July in Virginia.

Virginia’s law led to the indictment of three suspected spammers in December, and the arrest Tuesday of a Fort Worth, Texas, woman believed to be involved in sending spam.

The Maryland law is considered stricter than Virginia’s law because it bans many of the methods spam marketers use to hide their identities. It is illegal under the law to take over another computer to send spam in Maryland or falsify information when registering an Internet domain name. Spammers are also prohibited from using software to scan Web sites looking for valid e-mail addresses.

Maryland’s law is designed to complement the federal Can-Spam Act, which prohibits marketers from sending e-mail ads to anyone who has asked not to receive them.

The new law goes into effect Oct. 1.

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