Congress Approves ‘Anti-Spam’ Legislation

NEW YORK Congress sent a bill designed to combat unwanted commercial e-mail to the White House today for the president’s signature.

The CAN-SPAM Act (S. 877), sponsored by U.S. Senators Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), proposes tough civil and criminal penalties against the senders of unlawful marketing e-mails, special warnings for pornographic messages and a “do-not-spam” registry. President Bush has indicated he will sign the measure.

“The problems of spam have been accumulating over the years to a point where everyone has seen the affects of this frustrating junk mail,” said Burns in a statement. “The CAN-SPAM bill will finally offer consumers the ability to put an end to the bothersome e-mail they see each day in their in-boxes.”

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.

The California law also would allow individuals to sue spam violators—a step that many marketers fear could result in a glut of class action lawsuits. The federal legislation, on the other hand, entrusts the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general with that authority, calling for damages up to $250 per spam e-mail with a cap of $2 million that can be tripled for aggravated violations. For e-mails using false or deceptive headers, the cap does not apply.

The legislation also requires the FTC to report to Congress with a plan to implement a do-not-spam registry, similar to the national do-not-call registry intended to shield consumers from unwanted telemarketing solicitations.

The Direct Marketing Association, along with Internet companies like America Online, today expressed support for passage of the CAN-SPAM Act. However, the trade group raised concerns about the creation of a “do-not-e-mail” registry, arguing it would not reduce spam and would impede the growth of valid e-mail communications.

The DMA, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers have been pushing for a federal law, saying that inconsistent state laws would severely impact legitimate e-mail marketing, which according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, represents 12 percent of today’s $138 billion Internet commerce marketplace.

Last month, California State Sen. Debra Bowen 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” [IQ Daily Briefing, Nov. 17].