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House Passes Anti-Spam Bill

July 18, 2000

The House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed a bill that would limit the use of unsolicited e-mail advertising, more commonly known as "spam." In a vote of 427 to 1, House lawmakers almost unanimously passed H.R. 3113, the Unsolicited Electronic Mail Act, which bans spam unless it includes a return e-mail address that recipients can use to opt out of getting further unwanted messages.

The bill as passed is actually a combination of different spam bills introduced by Reps. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Gene Green, D-Texas. The Green portions of the bill contain specific consumer protections, including provisions that allow consumers who continue to receive spam after opting out to take their complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and/or sue the offending company in state or federal court. The sections of the bill offered by Green specifically prohibit the use of false sender addresses and routing information.

Green, Wilson and other backers of the spam bills contend that at a price tag of approximately $1 billion annually, spam imposes undue costs on Internet service providers (ISPs). In debate shortly before the House vote, Green noted that spam is most insidious because when users reply to the sender asking to be removed from the list, the reply is automatically interpreted as a sign of interest, and as a result the person's name and e-mail address usually gets forwarded to other e-mail marketers.

The Direct Marketing Association, which represents many of the companies doing the spamming, called the vote a mixed victory. Jerry Cerasale, the DMA's senior vice president for government affairs said while the DMA supported a vast majority of the provisions in the spam bill, it was concerned that the bill provides that the government enforce individual ISP rules.

"What we're likely to see is marketers incurring much higher costs with this form of advertising, as they will have to go and look up every ISP of every address they e-mail to to see what their spam and privacy policies are," Cerasale said.

The DMA is also worried that provisions allowing individuals to take legal action are too broad and could lead to massive class action lawsuits, Cerasale said.

Currently pending in the Senate is the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act, introduced by Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. Like many other technology-related bills introduced as late as early 2000, chances for passage are slim as the summer recess and then the election season draw near.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have introduced anti-spam language in cyber-security legislation. And in the House, Reps. Goodlatte and Rick Boucher, D-Va., include language legalizing ISPs' anti-spam policies in two broadband deregulation bills favorable to the baby Bells.

Another bill, introduced in early 1999 by Sens. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., would have required ISPs to compile lists of subscribers who did not want to receive spam, but many ISPs and organizations like the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE) spoke out against this measure.

Steve Gold,


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