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Speaker May Force House Anti-Spam Vote

U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is considering bypassing House members bickering over competing anti-spam bills by introducing for a full floor vote the Can Spam Act passed by the Senate last week. The vote could come as soon as Wednesday, according to sources contacted by internetnews.com.

A spokesman for Hastert's office said "no decision has been made," but confirmed "it certainly is a possibility."

Both chambers of Congress have said they want to have an anti-spam bill on President Bush's desk by the end of the year, but disputes about the ability of individuals to sue spammers, caps on damages and definitions of what actually constitutes spam continue to divide the House Energy and Commerce Committee members.

If Hastert decides to introduce the Senate legislation, which passed 97-0 and includes much of the language contained in the various House versions, House members who oppose certain provisions would be put into a position of voting "no" on an anti-spam bill.

The Can Spam Act (S. 877) approved by the Senate, co-sponsored by Senators Conrad Burns (R.-MT) and Ron Wyden (D.-OR), requires bulk commercial e-mailers to include opt-out provisions and valid header and subject lines in their solicitations and provides civil and criminal penalties for violations of the law.

The bill defines spam as an "unsolicited commercial electronic message" that is not a "transactional or relationship" message and is sent to the recipient without prior affirmative or implied consent.

While providing for no private right of action by recipients of spam, it does allow Internet service providers (ISPs) adversely affected by a violation of the law to bring a civil action and sets a maximum civil penalty of $1.5 million for knowing and willful violations of the law. It also triples the monetary damages for spammers who engage in the currently common practices of e-mail address harvesting and dictionary attacks.

The bill also includes an amendment championed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-NY) directing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to come up with a plan for a federal do-not-spam list similar to the agency's popular do-not-call registry. The legislation gives the FTC, which opposed the amendment, six months to report back to Congress with any potential drawbacks to the registry.