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Spam law deletes few junk e-mails

September 10, 2001 

Spam law deletes few junk e-mails hed But supporters see it as important 1st step

Consumers sick of all those junk e-mails had better get cozy with the delete button.

The lawmaker who battled to get "anti-spam" legislation passed last year admits the law is ineffective and would take too much government intrusion to make it work.

"We're going to have to put up with deleting unwanted messages," state Rep. Shawn Mitchell says of the year-old law that made it a violation to send unsolicited electronic ads to people without their consent and required the label "ADV," for such advertisements.

Stewart Levin, a concerned parent, helped get the law passed, but acknowledges it has not helped. Levin said he still receives up to three dozen junk e-mails per week at his home computer, including plenty of dicey ads that he doesn't want his children to see. Levin has purchased two filtering systems to screen out the junk.

"As a concerned parent with teenage and preteen kids, I was worried that they were getting more and more crude spam e-mails," said Levin, a geophysicist from Englewood, who testified last year in legislative hearings. "I wanted to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough."

The law made Internet service providers responsible for protecting consumers from unwanted messages by suing the so-called spammers who bombard the cyber-networks with junk mail. But that hasn't happened.

"Relying on private lawsuits hasn't made much of a difference," concedes Mitchell, a Republican lawmaker and attorney from Broomfield.

Colorado's deputy attorney general for consumer affairs, Garth Lucero, says the law is not very practical since the government has no enforcement authority.

No incentives for suits

"One of the issues with a law like this is without some fairly hard-hitting remedies there are no incentives for private parties to take on a commercial entity that engages in a violation of a state statute," he said.

If consumers are overwhelmed with unwanted e-mails, they have to complain to their service provider or try to take on the advertising company on their own.

"As a practical matter, trying to track down the commercial entity doing the spamming is very difficult and expensive," Lucero said. "With limited resources, the average consumer isn't going to have a lot of luck doing an investigation and identifying the company and its officers and principles and serving papers down in, say, Miami. "

The anti-spam law went into effect June 3, 2000, without the governor's signature. It was one of only five bills, out of 412 passed by the legislature, to do so.

At the time, Gov. Bill Owens said it was an "important step" in protecting consumer rights, but that the law raised the "significant likelihood" of lawsuits.

"I am concerned about court rulings in other states where similar attempts to regulate junk e-mail were determined to violate the Constitution as an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce," Owens said, explaining why he did not sign the law.

Mitchell admits he gets a flurry of unlabeled junk e-mails and knows plenty of other people who do also. But Mitchell said he still believes a private enforcement mechanism - rather than government enforcement - is the best approach.

"Building up a groundswell'

"Internet service providers should have the responsibility to bring complaints against the companies sending out the advertising," Mitchell said. "It would take too much heavy-handed government to enforce it otherwise."

Levin said he doesn't believe the law was a wasted effort. He said it paves the way for possible federal legislation or perhaps an international enforcement mechanism.

"It was still worth doing. It's building up a groundswell, letting (spammers) know people in Colorado are opposed to all this junk e-mail," he said.

By Julia C. Martinez, Denver Post Capitol Bureau

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