INTERNAUT

Bills that would put a lid on spam help add spice to autumn

Shawn P. McCarthy

From congressional bills to special reports to a noteworthy lawsuit, this autumn has been an intriguing season for the Internet. Let's start with spam.

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) wants the Federal Communications Commission to maintain an opt-out list for people with e-mail accounts. She proposes penalizing spammers who send unsolicited messages to those who have opted out. Bulk e-mailers would be required to check the opt-out list before hitting the send button.

Sounds good on the surface, doesn't it? Many government offices would sign up their employees. But think of the logistics. The list would be enormous, and maintenance would be a nightmare. Internet providers have expressed doubt that FCC could respond quickly enough to their removal requests.

A better bill is one sponsored by Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.). Known as the Can Spam Act, HR 2162 basically would prohibit all spam unless the receiver agreed to be added to the sender's mailing list. Call it the opt-in option. You can view the Miller bill on the Web at thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d106:h.r.02162.

For a list of bills that deal with restricting unsolicited e-mail, visit www.cauce.org/legislation.html.

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The Federal Trade Commission has decided that Web sites must obtain a parent's permission through mailed or faxed messages before they can share with other organizations personal information disclosed by children.

There's a temporary sliding scale by which sites can vary their consent methods. For two years they can use postal mail or fax, a credit card or toll-free telephone number, digital signature, or e-mail accompanied by a personal identification number or password.

The agency will begin enforcing the rule in April. You can see details at www.ftc.gov/opa/1999/9910/childfinal.htm.

Meanwhile, FTC is the subject of a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington by a group called the Electronic Privacy Information Center. EPIC contends that the commission has failed to take action on many privacy complaints received from consumers.

FTC has long been considered the agency in charge of privacy complaints, so EPIC wants to monitor how well it is responding. Check out this topic at www.epic.org/privacy/internet/ftc_foia_comp.pdf

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So far, no sales taxes apply to items sold over the Internet. The Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 assured that sales will stay tax-free until October 2001.

Now the Congressional Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce is working on a structure for how Net taxes should eventually be applied. You can read the recommendations at www.ecommercecommission.org/invite.htm.

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Ever wonder just how big the Net is, how fast it's growing, and who has access? Visit the Library of Congress' Internet statistics and demographics page, at lcweb.loc.gov/global/internet/inet-stats.html.

One final note. Check out the Federal Emergency Management Agency site, at www.fema.gov/y2k/, for pointers to state and local emergency services connected with the year 2000 rollover.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.

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