FTC Seeks More Spam, Telemarketing Authority

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday asked Congress for increased authority to fight spam and unwanted telemarketing.

In testimony before subcommittees of the Senate Commerce Committee and House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, FTC commissioners called for authorization to delay notifying suspected spammers that they are being investigated, and for authorization to require recipients of spam-investigation requests to keep quiet about them.

Secret investigations would help prevent the targets of FTC investigations from moving assets overseas, the agency said.

“The FTC’s experience is that when fraud targets are given notice of FTC investigations they often destroy documents or secrete assets,” said a document outlining the FTC testimony.

The FTC also asked Congress for “clarification of the scope” of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act so that hackers or spammers who hijack customers’ e-mail accounts are deemed unauthorized users rather than customers entitled to the act’s protections.

Currently, the FTC cannot get information from Internet service providers in the discovery phase of a case, which limits the agency’s ability to investigate spammers, the FTC said.

The agency also called for criminalizing false e-mail header and routing information, a tactic spammers commonly use to hide the source of their e-mails.

The FTC also wants increased ability to share information with foreign counterparts to help combat cross-border fraud, and an expansion of its ability to use foreign counsel to pursue offshore assets.

Moreover, the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act should be amended to include e-mail, the FTC said. Amending the statute would help the FTC pursue spammers that use false header and routing information, and who make false claims in subject lines, and who falsely claim that e-mail was solicited or that an opt-out request will be honored, the agency said.

Amending it would also help the FTC go after spammers who send commercial e-mail to people who requested not to receive it; those who send e-mail that fails to provide a reasonable means to “opt out” of future e-mails; and those who send e-mail to addresses obtained through harvesting or so-called dictionary attacks where e-mail is sent to large numbers of potential addresses generated from random combinations of letters, common names or words from a dictionary.

Though several spam bills have been introduced in Congress, the request seemed to catch lawmakers off guard, a Reuters report said. House committee chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-LA, said he was “surprised” by the FTC proposal but was willing to “refine and improve” a spam bill he had developed, Reuters reported.

In addition, the FTC asked Congress to give it authority over telecommunications firms. Presently, telecom providers, along with financial firms such as banks and insurance providers, are outside the FTC’s jurisdiction.

Because of this exemption, telecom companies, some of the most prolific telemarketers in the nation, are not covered by the FTC’s national no-call list, which is scheduled to launch this summer. Telecom companies would have to abide by the no-call list if the FTC’s request were approved.

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