Congressional Bill Targets Spammers

Spam, or unsolicited e-mail, has been around since the advent of e-mail, and its widespread annoyance has prompted federal legislation against those who send online junk mail.

A number of bills have been proposed in Congress, the latest being an opt-out plan aimed to emulate the U.S. Postal Service’s direct mail policy.

Sponsored by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), the Unsolicited Electronic Mail Act of 1999 would require those sending commercial e-mail to have a valid return address and honor all requests to be removed from distribution lists. It also gives more power to Internet service providers, allowing them to charge companies that want to send bulk e-mail.

The main focus of the bill is the opt-out feature, which would provide users with the opportunity to add their names to an FCC list prohibiting spam being sent to them. Users could then sue any company that spams a list member.

“. . .As consumers, we should have the power to stop getting commercial or pandering e-mail on our computers or on the computers of our children,” Wilson said. “The bill also provides relief for Internet service providers who now bear the cost of unwanted spam as advertising costs are shifted from the advertiser to the service provider.” Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) co-sponsored the bill.

The opt-out feature is what differentiates this bill from previous anti-spam legislation. Already under review is the Can Spam Act, introduced in June by Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), which has passed through numerous committees and is now being debated in the House Subcommittee on Crime. That bill would allow ISPs to prohibit spam being sent to their subscribers.

Wilson said her bill does not “limit free speech on the Internet. It just gives people the power to decide what they don’t want to see or listen to.”

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