Congress reaches antispam bill accord
Source: The Boston Globe
By Chris Gaither
Date: November 22, 2003
The US House is expected to approve legislation today restricting the sending of unsolicited e-mail by businesses, paving the way for the nation's first federal antispam law.
The bill is a stricter version of the Can Spam Act, passed 97-0 by the Senate last month. A major breakthrough came yesterday afternoon when House and Senate negotiators hammered out a surprise compromise plan.
The House appeared to approve the compromise in a voice vote, but the lawmakers then called for a formal vote, which was delayed until today.
President Bush has indicated he would sign a bill designed to stem the flood of unwanted advertisements clogging e-mail inboxes.
The amount of spam whizzing across the Internet has soared in the past few years, to more than half of all e-mail from only 7 percent in 2001, according to several market research firms. Consumers and business owners list unwanted e-mail as their biggest complaint about the Internet.
The legislation "is an important first step in restoring some of consumers' control over their inboxes," Representative John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said.
The congressional measures, which must go back to the Senate for final approval before they reach the president's desk, would override more stringent state legislation, including the nation's toughest antispam law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 in California.
The House bill bans misleading subject lines, false headers and return addresses, and the harvesting of e-mail addresses from the Internet for spamming. The bill also requires that spam include a working unsubscribe link in the e-mail and instructs the Federal Trade Commission to establish a "do-not-spam" list similar to the "do-not-call' list intended to end unwanted calls from telemarketers. Senders of scam e-mails or child pornography e-mails could face up to five years in prison.
An amendment by Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, also bans wireless spam, such as unwanted text messages to cellphones.
"For the first time during the Internet era, American consumers will have the ability to say no to spam," Representative Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said.
Although consumers may be able to say no, the new law is not expected to spare them much from the influx of spam.
Opponents of the bill said Congress has done more harm than good by giving businesses the right to send unsolicited marketing e-mails until consumers say they don't want it. The California law, in contrast, makes it illegal for businesses to send commercial e-mail unless consumers ask for it.
"They've legalized spam," Laura Atkins, president of the SpamCon Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Palo Alto, Calif., said of the congressional legislation. "I don't see anything in there that's going to stop spam."
Facing the prospect of having to curb their nationwide e-mail marketing to comply with the tough California law, three trade groups representing advertisers have lobbied the House to quickly pass a federal antispam law that supersedes the state rules. California state Senator Kevin Murray, a Los Angeles Democrat who wrote the California law, called the federal legislation "toothless" and said it would do little to reduce spam. "They have essentially protected the e-mail marketing business from the California legislation," he said.
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