FTC Takes on Spam
The FTC is the right agency for the job and should be given expanded powers.It chokes in-boxes, throttles bandwidth, insults, invites and offends. Its spam. In combating it, nearly any tactic seems justified. But amid calls that range from metered fines to hard jail timeto Microsofts filing of 15 lawsuits against alleged spammers here and abroadthe requests of one federal agency are making a lot of sense just now. Officials of the Federal Trade Commission, the top cops of commercial speech, were on Capitol Hill recently looking for new tools to combat fraudulent and deceptive e-mail. As FTC officials pointed out, e-mail is no longer a novelty, and its time to treat spam like any other business communication. We think the FTC is the right agency for the job and should be granted expanded powers, within reason, to combat spam. At a time when spam makes up more than 48 percent of Internet e-mail traffic and costs U.S. businesses nearly $9 billion a year, the bogus messages have become "the weapon of choice for those engaged in fraud and deception," according to FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle. We support the FTCs efforts to tighten and revamp the definition of fraudulent or abusive e-mail. The narrow definitions of the marketing industry are insufficient to stem spam. FTC officials have suggested that the definition of spam must include mislabeled and unsolicited e-mail.
The FTC should also be granted permission to share investigative information with law enforcement counterparts in other nations. Some movement was made on this front when the 30-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last week set guidelines to help agencies, including the FTC, track scammers that use a variety of nefarious cross-border methods, including spam. The FTC also seeks the overturn of a District Court ruling that FTC staff cannot get data from ISPs in the discovery phase of a case; in addition, the FTC wants third-party sources to be required to keep subpoenas confidential. Without these tools, the agencys ability to probe spammers is limited.