The anti-spam bandwagon is gaining speed as industry players counter pending bills with legislative proposals of their own—including one from Microsoft Corp. Wednesday. Proposals vary widely, covering a range of measures from jail time for repeat spammers to the imposition of a tiny charge for sending e-mail, and the Senate is slated to sort through all the options and vote on one before summers end.
In a letter to Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz. and Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. Wednesday, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates outlined a legislative plan to create incentives for e-mail marketers to adopt best practices and become certified as trustworthy senders. Under Gates plan, the Federal Trade Commission would provide a safe harbor for companies that join an FTC-approved self-regulatory group. The legislation would name the basic components of industry guidelines regarding notice and choice.
The Microsoft proposal, which would preempt state laws, would also provide broad rights to ISPs to prosecute spammers, and at the same time clarify that ISPs are not obligated to block or carry any given categories of e-mail.
The longest-standing anti-spam bill, the CAN-SPAM initiative sponsored by Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., bans the use of false or deceptive headers or subject lines and requires senders to provide users with an opt-out feature. It also preempts state laws, which unsettles prosecutors in many of the 29 states that have already passed laws, and it forbids private rights of action.
Consumer groups are calling on Congress to take a tougher approach and give users a more affirmative role in the e-mail they receive. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is sponsoring legislation that would establish jail time as a penalty for serious, repeat spammers and create a national Do-Not-Spam list, fashioned after the FTCs Do-Not-Call list.