Not waiting for the U.S. Congress to take action against spam, the California State Senate passed a bill Thursday that would turn spam from a misdemeanor to a felony offense and cost spammers an estimated US$500 per unsolicited e-mail sent.
Bill SB 12, authored by State Senator Debra Bowen, a Democrat from Redondo Beach, California, was introduced because previous legislation has had little effect on combating unwanted e-mail. According to a spokeswoman from Senator Bowen’s office, the current antispam law sets up an “opt-out” model, by which spammers are able to send unwanted e-mail until asked to stop. However, she explained that responding to spam through the opt-out model only verifies a live e-mail address.
SB 12 presents an “opt-in” requirement whereby spammers must have permission before sending e-mail if they do not already have a business relationship with the recipient. The “opt-in” model is based on a federal law that bans unsolicited or junk faxes due to the cost-shift associated with junk fax.
The costs associated with spam from the recipient side — such as ISPs raising access fees to pay for e-mail management, blocking and filtering; and businesses having to hire extra IT staff, purchase filtering software and deal with employee productivity loss — are enough to mirror the federal junk fax law, which allows consumers to sue fax spammers for $500 per fax, the spokeswoman said.
SB 12 is halfway through the process, awaiting voting by the California Assembly, before making its way to Governor Gray Davis which could take up to eight weeks. And while Governor Davis has not taken a formal position on the bill, Senator Bowen’s office said it is confident of his support. Governor Davis last year signed similar bills authored by Senator Bowen, one concerning junk fax and another that created a “do not call” list for Californian telemarketers.
Other states have also recently taken action against the rise in spam. Virginia enacted a law in April, which followed California’s existing “opt-out” methods, but also made spam a felony offense. Senator Bowen’s office said if California passes the law enforcing the “opt-in” method, it will not only send a strong antispam message to Congress but to other states as well to go further than current laws.