Anti-Spam Bill Clears Senate

Wednesday Nov 26th 2003 by Robyn Greenspan
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Technical issues force another House vote on anti-spam legislation, but President Bush is still expected to sign bill early in 2004. Meanwhile, the FTC may not have to look past its own backyard to enforce the anti-spam bill.

The U.S. Senate formally approved the negotiated House-Senate version of the Can Spam Act Tuesday afternoon, unanimously approving the nation's first national anti-spam legislation. The legislation now returns to the U.S. House, where passage is expected in early December, to reconcile "technical" differences.

Saturday morning the House approved a modified version of the anti-spam legislation that passed the Senate in October. Because of the changes in the bill, another Senate vote was necessary. President Bush is expected to sign before the end of the year.

"This bill makes spamming an outlaw business and that this will be treated as priority issue," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-OR), one of the co-sponsors, along with Sen. Conrad Burns (R.-MT), of the legislation. "If enforcement action takes place immediately after passage, we send a message to spammers that it is a new day."

Consumers expecting to see a dramatic drop in unwanted e-mail, however, are likely to be disappointed. Legitimate e-mail marketers and publishers, along with political and charitable organizations, will still be allowed to send unsolicited e-mail to consumers as long as the message contains an opt-out mechanism, a valid subject line indicating it is an advertisement and the legitimate physical address of the mailer.

The legislation, which pre-empts existing state anti-spam laws, imposes criminal and civil penalties for spammers who send fraudulent e-mail using such standard spam tactics as false headers and misleading subject lines. It also criminalizes harvesting e-mail addresses and hijacking consumers' computers for the purpose of sending e-mail, two other common spamming techniques.

The bill calls for statutory damages of $2 million for violations, tripled to $6 million for intentional violations and unlimited damages for fraud and abuse. In the most extreme cases, the bill calls for a maximum five-year prison sentence. Individuals are barred from suing spammers, a right reserved for Internet service providers and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The bill also calls for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate developing a national Do-Not-Spam list and contains provisions to limit wireless unsolicited commercial e-mail.

"This pro-consumer measure is a significant beginning to controlling spam," Wyden said. He also noted, "Kingpin spammers are not simpletons and we know many of them will try to move offshore, which will call for greater international cooperation."

E-mail marketers and publishers pushed hard for one national standard that would pre-empt existing states laws, including the recently passed California law that carries much tougher restrictions than the federal legislation. The California opt-in law goes so far as to effectively ban ad-supported e-mail newsletters.

U.S. Biggest Spammer, Spamee
The FTC may not have to look past its own backyard to enforce the anti-spam bill the president is expected to sign early next year. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2003 e-commerce and development report identifies the U.S. as the top perpetrator, responsible for more than half of the spam received in the world — just over 58 percent. China is credited with generating only 5.6 percent of worldwide spam, the U.K. follows with 5.2 percent. Brazil is the source of 4.9 percent of global spam, Canada 4.1 percent and "others" a whopping 21.8 percent.

The majority of spam victims are in the U.S. as well, the report finds, and besides being annoying, the UNCTAD cites a MessageLabs estimate that unwanted e-mail cost enterprises worldwide roughly $20.5 billion.

At an average 226 of unwanted messages per inbox, Russell Research's survey of more than 1,200 U.S. adults showed overwhelming support for a national "Do Not Spam" registry, but only 19 percent thought it would be extremely or very effective. The majority (46 percent) thought the registry would be somewhat effective.

Already accounting for more than half of global e-mail, Corvigo expects unwanted messages to further increase by 64 percent going into the close of 2003.

"It's the holiday season and spammers are trying to make a buck anyway they can," said Jeff Ready, CEO of Corvigo. "Unfortunately, consumers can expect this volume to continue to increase throughout December and taper off only slightly in January."

Clearswift found that the seasonal increase is related to the financial burden of holiday parties and gift-giving, when spammers are tempting e-mail users with cheap loans to see them through to the New Year.

Furthermore, Clearswift warns e-mail users that spam can be dangerous: "Spam is evolving from purely unsolicited mail to sell products and services to a tool used by virus and malicious code writers as a new way to spread chaos," says Pete Simpson, Clearswift's ThreatLab manager. "With ever more ingenious rouses being used, and SoBig G expected any day, organizations need to be prepared."

The UNCTAD study took a close look at the year's malicious incidents and found that the U.S. suffered the most digital attacks in 2002, while also topping the list of originators that year. In 2002, The U.S. suffered nearly 4.5 times more attacks than the next closest victim, Brazil. mi2g named Brazil as the leader of worldwide hacker attacks during 2003.

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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