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Senators Want to Bar Junk E-Mail; House Panel to Vote (Update1)

March 27, 2001

Washington, March 27 (Bloomberg) &@0151; Two U.S. senators aim to ban unsolicited electronic mail unless it is clearly identified and gives consumers the option to block future mailings, as a similar bill is to be considered tomorrow by a House committee.

Senators Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, plan to introduce legislation aimed at giving people more control over unwanted e-mail, called ``spam.''

The growth of the Internet has encouraged companies to use e- mail to reach potential customers, often sending a mass of messages using a bogus return address to thwart customers who want to stop future solicitations. The legislation would make that illegal.

``Left unchecked, spam could have a significant negative impact on how consumers use Internet services and e-commerce,'' Wyden said in a statement. ``This legislation strikes at unscrupulous individuals who use e-mail to annoy and mislead.''

The Senate bill would require companies to use accurate return addresses on unsolicited e-mails and makes it illegal to send material to people who notify a company they want to stop the mailings, giving the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general power to sue companies that violate the law.

The House bill in the Commerce Committee would impose tougher penalties on offenders, letting individuals along with the FTC sue companies for $500 per illegal e-mail, said Kevin McDermott, spokesman for Representative Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican and bill sponsor.

A lawyer for the Direct Marketing Association, which represents companies that sell through catalogs and mailings, said the House version would impose a difficult burden on Internet service providers by requiring them to block spam e-mail or risk enforcement action.

``We're a little bit concerned about some of the House provisions,'' said Ron Plesser, a partner with Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe LP, who said industry lawyers are working with Wilson to change the bill. ``I'm very optimistic about a good outcome.''

The bill must win backing of the House Commerce Committee, the full House, the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate and be signed by President George W. Bush to become law.

By Katherine M. Reynolds, © 2001 Bloomberg L.P.


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