EBay Exec Calls for Banning E-Mail Harvesting

Hoping to eliminate the growing amount of spam received by its members, online auction site eBay Inc. has been lobbying Congress for a law prohibiting the practice of e-mail address harvesting.

E-mail address harvesting is when software programs are used to gather names in bulk from Web sites, chat rooms and other areas of the Internet. Spammers use it to collect addresses by the millions.

Robert Chestnut, vice president and deputy general counsel at eBay, testified this week before the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crime. He said federal legislation against harvesting would greatly benefit eBay's customers.

The committee, whose chairman is Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, held three hearings in May and June on ways to combat cyber crime. Federal and local law enforcement officials as well as business executives testified.

“One problem that eBay believes needs new federal legislation [is] a criminal prohibition against e-mail address harvesting for the purpose of sending illegal spam,” Chestnut said. “EBay users are increasingly receiving illegal spam from people who obtained their e-mail addresses illegitimately from the eBay Web site.”

He noted that spammers are building lucrative businesses by using automated tools that “suck in millions of e-mail addresses and spew them out again” for use by other spammers.

“This parasitic process undermines public confidence in e-commerce, feeds public fears about the threats to privacy on the Internet and becomes a breeding ground for fraudulent conduct,” he told the committee.

The committee also heard from law enforcement officials about their latest efforts to combat child pornography, privacy invasion and identity fraud on the Internet.

Those testifying before the committee said they needed Congress' help to combat cyber crime. However, Smith noted that it would take more than just legislation to combat the problem. It also requires cooperation between private industry and their customers, he said.

“Legislation alone cannot adequately combat the level of cyber crime we face today,” Smith said. “Private industry that wants to protect their businesses and their customers provide the first line of defense. The private sector will always be ahead of government on the latest technology and must be willing to cooperate with each other and with law enforcement.”

Smith said the committee would take the testimony into consideration in drafting any cyber crime legislation.

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