Calls for Spam Legislation Spur Action

Lawmakers have begun answering calls from experts at the Federal Trade Commission's recent anti-spam forum for federal legislation.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, said Monday that efforts have begun to push spam legislation through the House of Representatives, according to reports. The House Judiciary Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee are working on a bill, he said.

Also, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-MT, is proceeding with the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 with no major changes, a spokeswoman said.

“Most likely it's going to go straight to markup,” Burns' press secretary Jennifer O'Shea said. “There is no date as of yet, but hopefully soon. At this point he's pretty confident that this bill has teeth.”

The CAN-SPAM Act would give the FTC enforcement authority. It provides for state attorneys general to sue on behalf of residents, and for Internet service providers to sue businesses that send unsolicited commercial e-mail across their networks.

But it lacks a provision that would let individuals sue spammers, which many anti-spammers contend is necessary for any federal spam law to be effective.

“Private-action lawsuits come down to dealing with trial lawyers, and that's not what this is about,” O'Shea said. “This is about getting rid of spam.”

CAN-SPAM would ban misleading subject lines. It also would ban forged headers, a common tactic spammers use to mask e-mails' origins. The act would require all commercial e-mail to have functioning return addresses or a link recipients can use to opt out of future e-mails that stays working at least 30 days after the original mailing.

At the FTC's spam forum, most panelists representing a spectrum of interests including marketing said the time has come for federal anti-spam legislation. But what such legislation should include is another matter as few can even agree on what spam is.

Goodlatte is reportedly helping craft a spam bill that would outlaw deceptive subject lines and header information, like the CAN-SPAM Act.

Also like CAN-SPAM, the House is considering crafting a bill that would supersede the 29 state anti-spam laws in effect.

Representatives of marketing interests have expressed support for a federal law superseding the patchwork of state laws because it would be easier to comply with a single law.

Anti-spammers, however, fear that a federal law superseding state laws would result in more unsolicited e-mail flooding the Internet because it would remove what they perceive as a positive chilling effect that state spam laws are having on marketers.

The only other spam bill in the House is one introduced recently by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, that would require “ADV” labeling in commercial e-mail subject lines and offer computer users who report spammers a bounty as per a proposal by professor Lawrence Lessig of Stanford. But many representatives of both sides of the spam debate have dismissed the idea of offering a bounty to find spammers, claiming that finding them is not the problem.

Drawing mixed reactions was the recent proposal by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, to create a national do-not-spam list to be maintained by the FTC.

Though some Internet experts claim such a list at least would cure some of the problem, others say it would be a nightmare to manage because, for example, people change their e-mail addresses often and frequently have more than one.

The Direct Marketing Association opposes a do-not-spam registry because, it claims, only legitimate marketers would use it, and spammers would continue to spam, sullying the reputation of its members.

“It's not going to work, and expectations are not going to be met, and then legitimate marketers are going to be blamed,” DMA senior vice president Jerry Cerasale said.

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