Senate Anti-Spam Bill Introduced

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U.S. Senators introduced a bill designed to crack down on the growing problem of unsolicited bulk e-mail on Thursday, giving further evidence that a federal role in combating spam is inevitable.

Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden are co-sponsors of the bill, which is largely similar to acts they introduced in previous sessions of Congress.

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM) would require unsolicited e-mail marketing messages have a valid return address. E-mail marketers would be required to remove customers from their mailing lists if requested. The bill also give more legal ammunition for ISPs to take spammers to court, allows the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to impose fines, and gives state attorneys general the power to bring lawsuits.

"Just as quickly as the use of e-mail has spread, its usefulness could dwindle -- buried under an avalanche of 'get rich quick,' 'lose weight fast,' and pornographic marketing pitches," said Wyden.

The bill has the backing of major Internet players, including Yahoo!, AOL and eBay. Both Yahoo! and AOL have taken aggressive steps to combat spam, which ranks as the No. 1 customer complaint at AOL.

"We look forward to working with them, and other lawmakers, on this issue of critical and timely importance to people across the nation as the legislation makes its way through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives," AOL said in a statement. "We will continue to work together with other ISPs and policymakers to ensure that spam legislation has real teeth and provides the weapons needed to enable and empower AOL and other ISPs to pursue the most egregious and offensive spam violators."

Yahoo! also quickly endorsed the bill. "Yahoo! supports the Burns-Wyden bill because it provides for effective deterrents, penalties and marketing rules that would give consumers and email service providers additional protection from unsolicited commercial e-mail, and is very encouraged by the progress being made by the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees," the company said in a statement.

Opposition to federal action on spam has withered, even among the e-mail marketing industry. As up to 30 states have passed various anti-spam measures, and the flow of spam has continued to pick up steam, e-mail marketing trade groups have embraced sensible federal legislations. Both the Direct Marketing Association and the National Advertising Initiative's (NAI) e-mail service provider coalition back federal efforts.

"We do think that there is some work that needs to be done on this bill, but we look forward to being able to support a preemptive federal statute this year," said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the NAI's e-mail service provider coalition. Specificially, Hughes said his organization wanted the federal legislation to preempt any action at the state level. The CAN-SPAM act allows civil lawsuits at the state level. Additionally, the NAI's ESP coalition would like the definitions of consent and liability in the bill to be clarified.

Burns said he was hopeful the bill would pass, since the Senate's Commerce Committee unanimously passed similar legislation last year.

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