Antispam legislation moves closer to final passage

The Senate on Tuesday approved amendments to its antispam legislation, bringing it more in line with a House version of the bill approved last weekend.

The House still must approve the final version of the bill, which would provide civil and criminal penalties for sending fraudulent or unwelcome bulk commercial e-mail. That action is expected next week.

The bill is cleverly named Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, or CAN-SPAM. It would override multiple state laws, which Congress found 'do not appear to have been successful in addressing the problems associated with unsolicited commercial electronic mail.' The Federal Communications Commission would enforce it.

The law would ban the use of e-mail addresses harvested from Web sites whose privacy policies prevent such use, and the use of automatically generated addresses. It also would prohibit the use of compromised computers as proxies or transfer points to send spam, and disguising the identity of the sender. All commercial e-mail would have to include a valid return e-mail address, USPS mailing address and be identified by language approved by the FCC.

The bill does not require a no-spam registry, but does require spammers to let recipients opt-out of their mailing list. The FCC would provide a plan and timetable for establishing such a registry, which could be established no earlier than October 2004. The law would take effect Jan. 1.

Penalties could range from one to five years in prison, with fines of $250 per violation, up to $2 million. States and service providers would be allowed to bring civil suits against violators in federal court, with penalties of $100 per violation, up to $1 million. Both civil and criminal penalties could be tripled for aggravating circumstances.

Although the law would specifically apply to foreign nationals sending spam to the United States, critics have questioned the ability to enforce the provisions against offshore mailers. To encourage enforcement, the FCC will study the possibility of offering rewards to whistle blowers of at least 20 percent of civil penalties assessed.

Congress acknowledges in the act that the problem of spam will not be legislated away.

'The problems associated with the rapid growth and abuse of unsolicited commercial electronic mail cannot be solved by federal legislation alone,' the bill's preamble says. 'The development and adoption of technological approaches and the pursuit of cooperative efforts with other countries will be necessary as well.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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