President Signs Anti-Spam Bill Into Law

NEW YORK President George W. Bush today signed the CAN-SPAM Act into law in an effort to combat unwanted commercial e-mail.

The law calls for tough civil and criminal penalties against the senders of unlawful marketing e-mails, requires special warnings for pornographic messages and proposes a “do-not-spam” registry.

“In a country with an ever increasing reliance on the Internet, I am glad to know that today marks a day where Americans will begin to have some muscle against the spammers out there who flood their in boxes each day,” said U.S. Senator Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who sponsored the bill with Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a statement.

The federal law preempts 37 state anti-spam laws. The most wide-reaching state law to date from California, which was due to take effect Jan. 1, would have made it illegal to send most commercial e-mail messages to anyone in the state who had not explicitly requested them. The federal law allows unsolicited e-mail until recipients ask to receive no more.

The federal law includes 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. It also requires the Federal Trade Commission 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, American Association of Advertising Agencies and Association of National Advertisers applauded the new law, saying that it creates a national standard and it supercedes a patchwork of state laws. However, the trade groups raised concerns about the creation of a “do-not-e-mail” registry, arguing that it would impede the growth of 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.

FTC chair Tim Muris discussed the ramifications of the anti-spam law today on “Ask the White House,” an online interactive forum (www.whitehouse.gov/ask/20031216.html).