FTC won't create do-not-spam list

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will not immediately start a national do-not-e-mail list, despite a law passed last year that calls for the agency to develop a plan for such a list.

A do-not-e-mail list would likely be used by spammers to send consumers more unwanted commercial e-mail, FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said Tuesday. The FTC, in a report to Congress, instead advocated that ISPs (Internet service providers) continue to work on domain-level e-mail sender authentication, technologies that would require e-mail to come from the domain it says it's from.

Microsoft Corp. and other major ISPs have announced e-mail authentication initiatives in recent months, and without some way to identify spammers, a national do-not-e-mail list would be useless, the FTC said in its report to Congress. The FTC received more than 7,000 comments and advice from three computer scientists before issuing its report.

"Under current technology, any do-not-e-mail list would become a do-spam list," Muris said at a press conference. "Consumers will be spammed if we do a registry and spammed if we do not."

Under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, which went into effect in January, the FTC was required to report to Congress about the feasibility of a do-not-e-mail list and create a plan for a list. Senator Charles Schumer, the main supporter of a do-not-e-mail list, modeled his proposal after a national do-not-call telemarketing list, which has been popular with U.S. residents.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, did not have an immediate comment on the FTC's decision against creating a do-not-e-mail list.

The FTC's decision to not move forward with the do-not-spam list leaves consumers with no recourse against spammers, said Ray Everett-Church, counsel for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. CAN-SPAM allows ISPs and state attorneys general to sue spammers, but not individual consumers, and a do-not-spam list would have given consumers one way to fight back, Everett-Church said.

"Right now, consumers have no recourse against spam sent to them," Everett-Church said.

The FTC's report questioned if the security of a national do-not-spam list could be guaranteed, but Everett-Church called security a false concern. Combined with a private right to sue, a do-not-spam list would give consumers the ammunition they need to fight spam, Everett-Church said. "If you give people the ability to sue ... there's really no need to secure the list," he added.

The difference between the national do-not-call list and a national do-not-spam list is that most telemarketers are legitimate businesses that are easy to find, while many spammers advertise fraudulent products and hide their identities through false header information, open relays and other means available on the Internet, Muris said.

In the meantime, e-mail users trying to limit their exposure to spam should use spam filters and keep their e-mail addresses off public Web sites and chat rooms, Muris recommended.

Congress could still require the FTC to create the do-not-spam list, but Muris said Congress would have to pass a new bill for a do-not-spam list to happen. As part of the FTC's spam-fighting plan required by CAN-SPAM, the FTC plans to host a workshop on e-mail authentication later this year.

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