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Legislators to send spammers to prisons

Date: August 10, 2005
Source: Sun-Sentinel.Com
By: Linda Kleindienst

We've been trying to contact you. Spend less on medicines. Re: Your loan request. Your order is confirmed.

Sound familiar? Come-on spam notices ranging from love potions to lower mortgage rates jam personal and business e-mail accounts by the thousands each week. And two South Florida legislators want to bring the state's computer users some relief.

Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, said he wants the "Slam Spam" bill to put citizens back in control of their online lives.

"This is a pet peeve of mine and something I hear about from my friends who are regular e-mail users," said Porth, a prosecutor in the Broward State Attorney's Office. "So often our inboxes are filled up -- as much as 90 percent of our inboxes are junk. It seems wrong that people can invade our privacy like that."

Porth and Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, want to impose criminal penalties on the makers of commercial junk e-mails. Like a law that took effect in Georgia on July 1, it would become a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to send 10,000 commercial spam e-mails in any 24-hour period or more than 100,000 in a 30-day period or 1 million in a year -- or if revenue from a specific e-mail generates more than $1,000.

A Florida law passed in 2004 prohibits unsolicited commercial e-mail with false or deceptive information in the subject line, but threatens annoying spammers only with shutdown and a civil fine of $500 per e-mail message.

Aronberg, a former deputy attorney general who battled con men for the state, said that holding a felony over a spammer's head will likely reduce unwanted e-mails.

"When they just face a civil penalty, a fine, they consider that a cost of doing business," he said. "To stop spamming, people have to fear jail."

Attorney General Charlie Crist's Economic Crimes Division filed the state's first lawsuit under the law in April, accusing two Tampa men of sending out 65,000 deceptive e-mails -- including 48,000 after the law took effect. The suit charges the illegal messages linked recipients to more than 75 different Web sites engaged in fraudulent or illegal business activities, including pharmaceutical and cigarette sales and the illegal downloading of copyrighted movies.

The men, formerly of Fort Lauderdale, have been told by a judge not to send more e-mails while the lawsuit proceeds. They face a potential $24 million penalty.

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