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Legislature may limit junk e-mail

January 17, 2002 

SALT LAKE CITY — Junk e-mail, also known as spam, has attracted the attention of Utah legislators.

Although a number of Republicans expressed fears about Democratic Rep. Patrice Arent's proposed legislation to set restrictions on unsolicited commercial e-mail, members of the Legislature's Public Utilities and Technology Committee unanimously approved the bill Wednesday.

"We can't stop spam, but we can limit it . . . We've got to do something and this is an important first step," Arent, D-Salt Lake, told the committee.

Spam typically refers to advertisements, often for dubious products or get-rich-quick schemes, that are sent out at the same time to tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Internet subscribers. It has, at times, taxed resources of online service providers or computer systems within single companies.

The legislation, HB 80, would do a number of things, including requiring that people sending unsolicited commercial e-mail put "ADV:" as the first four characters on the subject line. They would also have to provide the recipient with a convenient, no-cost way of notifying the sender to take them off his or her solicitation list, and the e-mail would have to include the sender"s toll-free phone number and e-mail address.

Arent"s bill would allow spam recipients to file civil suits to recover actual damages, which could include the labor costs of restoring a corporate computer system knocked down by a flood of e-mails. They can also sue for $10 per unsolicited commercial e-mail, up to $25,000, plus legal fees.

Arent said the only plaintiffs likely to sue would be Internet service providers, large corporations or private residents joining in a class action suit.

"I fear this is a full-employment act for attorneys," said Rep. Stephen Urquhart, who is an attorney. Urquhart, R-St. George, said he believed the major outcome of any lawsuit would be "the lawyers would walk off with sacks of cash."

He tried to amend the bill to allow any prevailing party to collect attorneys" fees in the event of a lawsuit, but the committee defeated that proposed change.

Urquhart"s proposed amendment "could put a wet blanket over the entire bill," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.

Several industry experts testified in favor of the bill, including Peter Ashdown of XMission ISP of Layton and Salt Lake City.

"I"ve been dealing with this in the trenches for eight years," said Ashdown. "This law will give us the teeth to go after them."

Robert Galloway of Ikano Communications said, "We spend an enormous amount of time and financial resources" trying to remove spam.

"With this law, we may be able to do something."

By RALPH WAKLEY, Standard-Examiner Capitol Bureau. Copyright © 2001, Ogden Publishing Corporation

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