The CAN-SPAM Act is widely viewed, even by top policymakers, as a positive but inadequate measure. Officials now are placing greater hope in the private sectors ability to develop technologies, such as filtering and authentication tools. Nonetheless, with every advance in technology, there is a counter-advance by spammers to evade it.
"Theres an arms race going on between the spammers and the ISPs," Timothy Muris, Federal Trade Commission chairman, told senators charged with overseeing commerce on Thursday. "The spammers are at least certainly holding their own."
One mass e-mailer was on hand in the Senate Thursday to testify for himself that there will always be ways to evade spam filters. Ronald Scelson, president of Scelson Online Marketing, said his company has developed a new mailer that automatically adapts to any filter.
Scelson said he favors a global remove system, along the lines of the wildly popular Do Not Call registry, technology that will soon be available to protect the identity of individuals who join such a list. Scelsons company recently had to relocate to an undisclosed location because of threats that followed a previous testimony on the subject, he said.
Next month, the FTC will complete a report that includes a timetable for deploying a national Do Not Email registry. The report will also cover potential technological aids, such as domain-level authentication by ISPs, which Muris said could be useful.
ISPs are working together to test authentication approaches and develop other best practices for reducing spam. America Online Inc., Earthlink, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo are examining ways to confirm that their members who send e-mail have accounts and to handle abuses quickly, according to Ted Leonsis, vice president at AOL.
Praising CAN-SPAM as "the right bill at the right time," Leonsis told senators that AOL has reduced the volume of spam reaching many of its members in-boxes.
Despite the efforts of the ISPs, the overall volume of spam on the network has increased approximately 5 percent since the law was passed, rising from 78 percent of e-mail prior to enactment to 83 percent today, according to Shinya Akamine, president and CEO of Postini Inc.
However, technological solutions already in place have reduced the amount of spam getting to users, he said. Postini customers, including Circuit City and edible spam maker Hormel Food Corp., have seen as much as a 90 percent reduction, Akamine said.
Others in the industry advocate a more drastic approach in the war on spam. Hans Peter Brondmo, senior vice president at Digital Impact Inc., told senators that the underlying problem is the lack of accountability resulting from the simple, open, vulnerable architecture of e-mail. Developing a system of trusted senders is the only way to eliminate the problem of spam, he said, advising lawmakers to focus on ways to establish accreditation and reputation.