The U.S. Senate Wednesday passed a bill regulating unsolicited commercial e-mail and allowing fines as large as US$3 million for some types of illegal spam.
The Senate voted 97-0 to approve the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act on Wednesday after a compromise among members of the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee allowed an amendment authorizing a federal agency to launch a national do-not-spam registry.
CAN-SPAM would require commercial e-mail to include valid opt-out mechanisms and allows fines of up to $100 per piece of spam sent with misleading header information.
Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, had been holding up an antispam bill the committee approved in June in hopes of including a do-not-spam registry. Schumer announced Wednesday he has negotiated a deal with members of the committee, including Senators Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, sponsors of the CAN-SPAM Act.
Some critics, including the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, have criticized CAN-SPAM, saying its provisions requiring consumers to opt out of unsolicited e-mail instead of opting in to commercial e-mail make it a pro-spam, not an antispam, bill. “The problem is that I have yet to see a piece of legislation that qualifies as antispam,” coalition counsel Ray Everett-Church said in May, after CAN-SPAM had been introduced.
CAN-SPAM sponsors Burns and Wyden applauded the Senate’s passage of the bill. “Today, the Senate has sent the message that the government is going on the offensive against kingpin spammers,” Wyden said in a statement. “Americans are tired of just watching and fretting over in-boxes clogged with unwanted e-mail, and this legislation is an important step toward giving them more control.”
The Schumer amendment to CAN-SPAM would require the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to deliver to Congress a plan to create a national do-not-spam registry within six months and authorize the FTC to launch it within nine months of the bill’s passage, Schumer said. The bill just approved by the Senate would have to be approved by the U.S. House and signed by President Bush before the FTC were to start its no-spam registry.
No antispam bill has yet been approved by a committee in the U.S. House, as members continue to debate the merits of two bills introduced there.
Schumer has pushed for a national no-spam registry, which would be similar to the national do-not-call telemarketing list now in effect. Some FTC officials have questioned the effectiveness of a do-not-spam list, although they help administer the do-not-call list, in part because of the frequency with which many e-mail users change or add e-mail addresses.
But Schumer noted that his polling shows nearly three-quarters of U.S. residents want a do-not-spam list.
CAN-SPAM allows maximum penalties of $3 million for some types of spam. The bill allows fines for e-mail sent with misleading header information, deceptive subject headings or no functioning return address. CAN-SPAM also requires that unsolicited messages include valid physical postal addresses and clear notification that the message is an advertisement.
Additional criminal provisions, authored by Senators Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, were added into the Burns-Wyden bill through an amendment on the Senate floor. The Hatch-Leahy criminal provisions create several criminal penalties, ranging up to five years in prison, for some common spamming practices, including the following:
hacking into someone else’s computer to send spam;
using open relays to send bulk spam with an intent to deceive;
falsifying header information in bulk spam;
registering for five or more e-mail accounts using false registration information, and using these accounts to send bulk spam.
Microsoft Corp. cheered the Senate vote, and Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement that the Hatch-Leahy amendment strengthens the protection of children from pornographic e-mail.
“These provisions not only make the overall bill stronger but help give parents more peace of mind that stiff penalties have been put in place to ward off criminals and to better protect children on the Internet,” Smith said in the statement. “Spam is no longer just an inconvenience for consumers and the online industry; it has become an intrusive problem that makes it hard for people to sort through their personal e-mail and reduces productivity.”