Subcommittee passes anti-spam bill

IDG News Service |  Business

A U.S. congressional subcommittee Wednesday approved legislation that would prohibit the sending of unsolicited junk or "spam" e-mail unless it is clearly marked as an unsolicited commercial advertisement and a way is provided for consumers to opt out of future e-mail solicitations.

The Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee approved the legislative proposal by a unanimous voice vote. The bill now will move on to the full Energy and Commerce Committee. This is the continuation of a battle that started in 1998. Legislation each year since then has been drafted to try and stop the practice often called "spamming".

Critics charge that spam e-mail clogs networks and is a nuisance for many users. The goal of the legislation is to prohibit the advertisement for pornographic Web sites, get-rich-quick schemes and the numerous other types of spam e-mail that flood into e-mail systems each day, said in a statement U.S. Representative Gene Green, a Democrat from Texas who helped introduce the bill. The information contained in spam e-mail is never requested and thus should not be delivered, he said.

The bill known as The Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001 gives users the right to remove their names from spam lists. Companies that send spam would be required to provide a valid return e-mail address where users could write to be removed from the spam list, the bill states. Companies that fail to comply would be subject to investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and lawsuits from ISPs (Internet service providers) for US$500 per spam message, up to a maximum liability of $50,000, according to the proposed legislation.

Consumers should have the power to stop receiving junk e-mail, said U.S. Representative Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico who introduced the bill with Green, in a statement. The bill gives parents and consumers the power to say "enough is enough" and close their e-mail inbox to annoying and obscene junk e-mail, she said.

There is some concern from direct marketing companies about the bill. The Direct Marketing Association Inc. in New York supports the basic principles of the bill that spam senders can not lie about who they are and that consumers can opt out of receiving the junk emails, said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the association. However, the association disagrees with a clause in the bill that would make the FTC or any other government agency the enforcer of private spam or e-mail policies.

Similar anti-spam legislation introduced by Green and Wilson was approved by the full House in 2000, but failed to get through the Senate, said Kevin McDermott, a spokesman for Wilson.

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