House weakens spam legislation

By James Evans, IDG News Service |  Business

A U.S. House of Representatives committee on Wednesday stripped key elements out of a bill designed to curb unsolicited e-mail, or spam, and give consumers rights to take action against parties sending bulk e-mail.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee dropped provisions in the bill that would allow consumers to sue companies that fail to take them off lists for bulk e-mailings. Committee members, however, added to the bill -- sponsored by U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico, and Gene Green, a Democrat from Texas -- provisions that would require companies advertising pornography to clearly label e-mail that contain explicit adult content and allow ISPs (Internet service providers) to sue unrelenting spammers who have caused provable damages.

Wilson in a statement Wednesday expressed disappointment in the altering of the bill, known as the The Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001. She suggests that the bill approved by the Judiciary Committee will do little to protect families from the flood of junk e-mail landing in their e-mail inboxes.

Based on the Judiciary Committee's changes, the bill now appears more like a bill introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia. Goodlatte's bill requires only that spammers provide a legitimate return e-mail address on their bulk mailings.

Kevin McDermott, a spokesman for Rep. Wilson, said the Judiciary Committee cut out all the consumer protection provisions and left the fraud provisions that require spammers to provide legitimate e-mail return addresses and routing information. Wilson will continue to push for the passage of the version of the bill that was approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee in March, he said.

That version of the bill gives consumer protections such as allowing them to remove themselves from bulk e-mailing lists. If they are not dropped from the lists, the bulk e-mail companies would be subject to investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and lawsuits from ISPs (Internet service providers) for $500 per spam message, up to a maximum liability of $50,000 per case, according to the legislation.

The bill now moves on to the House Rules Committee, which will determine which version of Wilson and Green's bill makes it to the full House. The Rules Committee is likely to take up the bill in early to mid-June, McDermott said.

Similar anti-spam legislation brought forward by Wilson and Green was easily approved by the full House in 2000, but it failed to get through the Senate.

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