Anti-Spam Legislation Advances

Anti-spam legislation marches on, directing the FCC to create a Do Not Spam list.

In a frenzy of activity before adjourning for the year, Congress was set to pass last week anti-spam legislation that primarily targets unwanted pornography and flagrant fraud. However, the measure is unlikely to stem the tide of unwanted commercial e-mail, industry experts said.

Leveraging the rampant popularity of the recently implemented Do Not Call list, which aims to curb unwanted telemarketing, lawmakers voted to direct the Federal Trade Commission to create a Do Not Spam list. Many technology experts say such a list will not reduce the volume of spam, and worse, may even create new avenues for spammers to exploit.

"Spammers who may not have had access to certain resources before may now have easy access to them," said Ken Meszaros, associate vice president and network design manager at LandAmerica Financial Group Inc., in Richmond, Va., raising the issue that a Do Not Spam list could easily fall into the wrong hands. "They could figure out another approach to advertising that doesnt look like spam."

Meszaros, whose company blocks about 500,000 spam messages a week from its 12,000 mailboxes, said the biggest spammers are based overseas, and he doubted that legislation could stop them. Still, he welcomed the effort by Congress.

"Any kind of assistance we can get in ratcheting down on abuse would be helpful," Meszaros said. "But I dont think legislations going to solve the problem. Youre still going to need a few layers of technology to stop spam."

The legislation stalled in the U.S. House earlier this fall because some lawmakers sought to give citizens an individual right to sue spammers and file class action suits. In addition, many states fought to prevent Congress from pre-empting the states own stronger measures, but in the end, those provisions were dropped.

Characterizing the legislation as good but not great, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said he regrets that it pre-empts more stringent state laws. "It is quite possible that we will have to revisit the matter," Dingell said, prior to the 392-5 vote in the House.

Building on a bill that the Senate passed at the end of October, House members added a provision directing the Federal Communications Commission to find ways to prevent an onslaught of wireless spam.

"Spam to wireless phones is the kind of spam that follows you wherever you go," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., adding that spam has plagued wireless consumers in Europe and Japan. "Imagine if you reach a point where there are 150 unwanted [calls]."

The measure focuses most heavily on "kingpin spammers," as the direct marketing industry had lobbied hard for legislation that wouldnt curb its ability to send nonfraudulent e-mail. The measure makes it a crime to intentionally falsify sender identity or disguise e-mail routing; bans e-mail address harvesting and automated dictionary spam attacks; and establishes higher penalties for spammers who send unwanted, sexually offensive materials.