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E-mail spammers would face tougher restrictions under bill

February 22, 2002 

Under Senate Bill 183, South Dakota would join 18 other states that have cracked-down on those who send the unsolicited e-mails by allowing consumers to take them to court. Spammers could still send e-mail, but they would have to state their purpose in the subject line and provide an e-mail address.

The state's citizens receive 16 times more unsolicited e-mails than they did two-years ago, and it is time to fight the problem with legislation, said Rep. Mike Japers, R-Sioux Falls.

"I think it's something we could do that would definitely help with consumer protection, and it puts the burden of truthfulness on the spammers," Jaspers said.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISP) use filters to block out unwanted messages, but most spammers find clever ways to get around that roadblock. Jaspers said that spammers use tricks to persuade consumers to open messages and will disguise an e-mail's origin or use a misleading subject line.

He said that spamming is a financial burden to ISP's that must use filters to fight the mass e-mails. It also wastes the time of consumers who must deal with unwanted e-mail that does make it past filters.

"Technology is not going to get us out of this," said Otto Doll, Bureau of Information and Telecommunications. "It helps. We'll get better at it. But the spammers will also get better."

The bill says that all e-mail advertisements must be clearly identified in the first part of a subject line with a standard label. Unsolicited e-mails that contain pornography would also be specifically labeled. Spammers could not use false routing information or a third party domain name without permission.

Doll said that filters were able to block out less than one percent of unsolicited messages sent to state government e-mail accounts. They netted 490,000 e-mails from state accounts, he said.

Spammers use a number of techniques to reach consumers. Doll said that people should never attempt to unsubscribe from an unsolicited e-mail unless they want to be inundated by even more spamming.

"What spammers are doing is trying to find out if there's a real, live human being that's reading this on the other side," he said.

Consumers who receive a misleading, unsolicited message could raise a civil act that carries a $500 penalty. Spammers outside South Dakota would also have to meet the state law.

The bill is based on a similar law in Washington State, which was upheld in the state's Supreme Court.

Telemarketers must also abide by laws that require them to identify themselves. However, some legislators said the bill would be tough to enforce on businesses outside South Dakota.

"To somehow regulate companies that might not even exist inside the United States, when we're just little South Dakota, is beyond us," said Rep. B.J. Nesselhuf, D-Vermillion.

The legislation would do nothing to stop spamming, Nesselhuf said. "Trying to control the Internet is about as good as trying to control the weather," he said.

The House passed the bill 49-18. It will now go to the governor for consideration.

By: Angela Brooks, Community News Service Reporter. Copyright © Alcester Union & Hudsonite 2002

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