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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) finally introduced his long promised anti-spam legislation Thursday, joining the growing list of lawmakers demanding federal action to slow the growth of unsolicited e-mail.
Schumer's legislation would establish fines for spamming activity, mandate jail time for repeat offenders, and create a "Do-Not-Spam" list of e-mail addresses similar to the Federal Communications Commission's (FTC) new "Do-Not-Call" registry designed to stop telemarkers from making unwanted telephone solicitations.
The bill, Stop Pornography and Abusive Marketing Act (The Spam Act), would also make it a crime to harvest e-mail addresses, the most common technique spammers use to compile address lists. It would require commercial e-mail to be labeled with ADV (advertising) although "legitimate" e-mail marketers would be exempt if they comply with a set of standards to be established as "trusted" senders.
Under the bill's provisions, consumers would also be able to opt-out of unsolicited e-mail.
Schumer's No Spam registry would be a database of e-mail addresses for consumers who have opted out of receiving spam. Parents will have the option of putting their children's e-mail addresses in the registry with a special designation to "ensure" that adult content does not reach their children's mailboxes.
"My bill fights spam email on two fronts -- it gives parents the ability to regulate the e-mail sent to their kids and gives law enforcement the ability to go after those spammers that send this unwanted material out," Schumer said.
Appearing with Schumer to promote the bill was Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs.
"I stand side-by-side with Senator Schumer in the fight against pornographic e-mail," Combs said. "Parents need the ability to keep their children from being subjected to lewd material and Schumer's legislation will do just that. I am proud to stand with Chuck on this issue and we will continue to work together until this bill is law."
According to the FTC, the traffic in explicit images is particularly acute. The agency says that pornographic pictures appear in almost one out of every five e-mails that spammers use to advertise adult web sites.
In a June 2003 survey by the California-based Internet security firm Symantec, 47 percent of children reported receiving junk e-mail with links to pornographic web sites. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 are sexually solicited on the Internet, and one in four had an unwanted exposure to pictures of nudes or people having sex, but only 40 percent of these children told a parent.
"The avalanche of pornography being sent to kids by spammers makes checking e-mail on par with watching an X-rated movie. Parents need to be able to keep offensive material out of the family room and I'm working with the Christian Coalition to do just that," Schumer said. "The bottom line is that America's children have been under attack for a long time -- from violent TV shows, racy music videos, and now pornographic spam. The v-chip gave parents control of the TV. My Spam Act will give them control over the computer."
The Schumer bill will be competing with legislation already introduced in the Senate by Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D.-Ore) known as the Can Spam Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act), which calls for unsolicited e-mail marketing messages to have a valid return address. The legislation would also mandate e-mail marketers be required to remove customers from their mailing lists if requested.
The bill gives more legal ammunition for ISPs to take spammers to court, allows the FTC to impose fines, and gives state attorneys general the power to bring lawsuits.
Anti-spam measures have also been introduced in the House.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R.-La.) is pushing legislation to allow consumers to opt-out of any commercial e-mail they choose not to receive and would also require that any commercial e-mail must include identification that the message is an advertisement and must contain a valid street address for service of process.
In addition, the legislation would provide states, ISPs and federal authorities such as the Department of Justice and the FTC with criminal and civil remedies to enforce state computer fraud laws and general fraud laws against spammers.
In addition, Silicon Valley Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.) has prepared a bill called the Reduce Spam Act (Restrict and Eliminate Delivery of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail). The legislation would create a bounty for the first person who reports a particular spammer and establishes criminal penalties for fraudulent spam. Lofgen also wants unsolicited e-mail to have labeled subject lines, such as ADV (advertising).