Gazette opinion: Cyber crime: Burns takes aim at spam
Date: December 02, 2003
At home: 18 new messages this morning, 14 of which are junk e-mail.
At the office: Spam touts home loans, Viagra, pornography and penile enhancement.
Sound familiar? Congress, where offices, no doubt, drown in unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail as well, has felt our pain.
Before adjourning last week, the Senate voted final passage of the CAN SPAM Act after a final version was worked out in House-Senate negotiations. The House is expected to sign off on the measure when it reconvenes.
Sens. Conrad Burns of Montana and Ron Wyden of Oregon led the charge to can spam. Burns reports that unsolicited e-mail now comprises more than half of all e-mail. Spam accounts for 13 billion e-mails a day. The senators estimate that spam costs Americans $10 billion a year in filters and other anti-spam equipment, lost time and productivity.
One junk e-mail is a nuisance, 13 billion a day is an all-out assault on recipients.
Most of the legislation that Burns and Wyden proposed targets fraud by bulk commercial e-mailers and aims to uphold the right of recipients to refuse unwanted e-mail.
The penalties will include prison, fines and forfeitures. Prison terms of up to five years would only apply to those who used spam in committing a felony (such as hacking into someone else's computer to send bulk junk mail). Fines could apply to offending e-mailers whose electronic garbage caused cumulative losses of $5,000 to recipients.
We especially like the forfeiture provision: Law–breaking spammers would lose their computers and any other property obtained from unlawful spamming.
The act will direct the Federal Trade Commission to figure out how to implement a do-not-spam list - something along the lines of the wildly popular Do Not Call list.
The act also requires mandatory labeling for pornographic e-mails. And finally, the act will give monetary rewards to citizens who help trace hard-to-find spammers.
Will the CAN SPAM Act stop the insidious flood of unsolicited e-mail pitches? Spammers will probably devise new techniques to get around parts of the proposed law. But maybe, it'll slow them down.
We look forward to the day federal agents unplug some of the spammers who are now bombarding us with unwanted solicitations. We agree with Burns: Take away their computers. Fine the culprits. Let us e-mail in peace.
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