Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Anti-spam legislation introduced by Sen. Charles E. Schumer has earned unusually strong support from anti-spam groups, who say it will come closer than any other congressional proposal to telling spammers to stop.

The New York Democrat’s Stop Pornography and Abusive Marketing Act, or SPAM Act, calls for a national “No Spam Registry,” the only proposal that tells spammers to stop sending unsolicited e-mail to people who don’t want it.

Six other proposals merely allow for recipients to opt out of receiving future messages from individual spammers once they receive them and make spamming illegal only if the sender ignores the opt-out request or uses deceptive practices.

“The [other bills] fail the most basic test … none of them actually tell anyone not to spam,” said John Mozena, co-founder and vice president of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail and a supporter of the SPAM Act.

In general, any unsolicited e-mail sent in bulk is considered spam, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and it makes up about 40 percent of all e-mail. Most spam advertises for financial services or other products or is pornographic in nature. Spammers routinely send billions of e-mails per day, costing businesses and consumers more than $10 billion each year.

Under the SPAM Act, a computer user could register his or her e-mail address in a federal database similar to the new “do not call” lists designed to fend off telemarketers.

Many states have enacted do-not-call lists and have had varying degrees of success in curbing telemarketing. The FTC will begin manning the National Do Not Call Registry Oct. 1.

A national “no spam” list would allow the FTC to fine spammers up to $5,000 for each violation; those who misuse the registry could be fined up to $100,000. Additionally, those receiving spam could sue for as much as $1,000 for each such e-mail. Repeat offenders could get jail time.

“I think that spam, particularly the pornographic aspects, had to be stopped,” Mr. Schumer said yesterday. “I wanted to come up with the toughest legislation.”

Mr. Schumer’s SPAM Act was co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and endorsed earlier this month by the Christian Coalition, which praised the bill for its ability to crack down on pornographic spam.

Under the SPAM Act, parents could register a minor’s e-mail addresses in the no-spam registry. Even if the child opted for a spam solicitation, the registry would take precedence, making it illegal for spammers to send e-mails to the child’s address.

Anti-spam groups have praised the SPAM Act because it would allow citizens to sue spammers without the need to prove deception or fraud.

The bill also has garnered support because it does not pre-empt existing state laws.

Members of both chambers of Congress have been reviewing the six other proposals designed to lay down stiff penalties for spammers. But none of them explicitly states that spamming should be made illegal.

Under most bills, criminal charges and fines would be levied only against spammers who are deceptive, hack into computers to send spam or ignore specific requests to opt out of receiving such e-mails.

“All the other bills focus primarily on fraud, rather than spam,” said David E. Sorkin, an associate professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago and operator of the spamlaws.com Web site. “The Schumer bill is definitely getting a more favorable response” from anti-spam groups.

But Mr. Sorkin and others following the legislation said that because the SPAM Act bill was introduced June 11, it has yet to garner the congressional support received by a bill proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Conrad Burns, Montana Republican.

That bill, known as the Can-Spam Act, was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last week. It requires all marketing e-mails to have legitimate return addresses and allow computer users receiving e-mails to opt out of receiving future messages. Violators can be sued for as much as $1.5 million.

The Can-Spam Act includes an amendment that authorizes the FTC to look into a no-spam list, but does not mandate its creation.

The no-spam registry may have some kinks to be ironed out.

Critics have cautioned that spammers could tap into the database and use that as their spam-distribution list.

The FTC has said it is not sure whether it has the resources to handle such a database, and that it would be virtually impossible to enforce the list. The FTC already maintains a separate database of spam, which grows by nearly 150,000 messages per day.

Supporters of the registry said the FTC could handle it if Internet service providers and companies submitted their whole domain names to the list. For instance, if General Motors chose to submit the “gm.com” domain, all 350,000 company employees would be registered automatically.

Junkbusters Corp., a private anti-spam group, said it would not support a federal no-spam registry, calling it “expensive and impractical to operate.”

Junkbusters President Jason Catlett said on the group’s Web site: “Almost nobody … wants spam, so why require hundreds of millions of people to say this and to expose their e-mail addresses? Spammers have an inglorious history of using opt-out registries as sources of new e-mail addresses.”

Junkbusters has said that none of the current legislation goes far enough and that all spam should be made illegal.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide