House Approves Anti-Spam Bill

NEW YORK The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill early Saturday designed to regulate unwanted commercial e-mail.

The CAN-SPAM Act (S. 877), passed by a 392 to 5 vote, comes a month after the Senate unanimously approved similar legislation. The Congressional bodies are expected to iron out differences and send a final version to the president before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“For the first time during the Internet era, American consumers will have the ability to say ‘no’ to spam,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Bill Tauzin (R-La.), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “Although the Internet has given us abilities beyond our wildest dreams, it has also produced endless headaches with all the crippling congestion spam causes to computers every day throughout this country.”

The anti-spam legislation allows for consumers to opt out of all unwanted and unsolicited commercial e-mail. It also provides the Federal Trade Commission with the authority to set up a “do-not-spam” registry, similar to the national do-not-call registry intended to shield consumers from unwanted telemarketing solicitations.

The bill gives the FTC and state attorneys general the ability to vigorously enforce the legislation, calling for statutory damages of $2 million for violations, tripled to $6 million for intentional violations and unlimited damages for fraud and abuse.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers and Direct Marketing Association have urged Congress to pass anti-spam legislation, arguing that inconsistent state laws will severely impact legitimate commercial e-mail communications, which according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, represents 12 percent of today’s $138 billion Internet commerce marketplace [IQ Daily Briefing, Nov. 13].

A federal law would preempt 37 state anti-spam laws. Most state laws, like the proposed federal law, allow unsolicited e-mail until recipients ask to receive no more. However, the most wide-reaching state law to date from California, due to take effect Jan. 1, forbids sending most commercial e-mail messages to anyone in the state who has not explicitly requested them.

California State Sen. Debra Bowen last week blasted ad industry trade groups for their lobbying efforts, chiding, “Advertisers love the congressional bills because they don’t can spam.” In a statement, she said, “If you want to e-mail an advertisement to someone you don’t already have a business relationship with, you need to get their permission first. That’s it. That’s how it works nationwide for fax advertising, and that’s how it’s going to work for e-mail advertising in California come next year, unless Congress decides to keep doing the DMA’s bidding” [IQ Daily Briefing, Nov. 17].