Proposed Spam Bill Would Favor Mass E-Mailers

Reps. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R.-La.) and F. James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) are preparing to introduce junk e-mail legislation that provides a measure of consumer protection from spam but mostly favors businesses that want to continue to exploit the advertising potential of mass e-mails.

According to a draft copy of the bill obtained by The Washington Post, the bill would require e-mailers to provide accurate electronic and physical addresses, prohibit harvesting of e-mail addresses and allow consumers to opt-out of e-mail offerings.

However, the legislation, which may be introduced as early as this week, would supercede tougher state anti-spam state laws, bar consumers from suing mass e-mailers and allow companies to send e-mail to anyone who has done business with the companies within the previous three years.

Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sensenbrenner, head of the Judiciary Committee, are attempting to craft a compromise bill between consumer groups that want spam barred and spammers behind bars and legitimate businesses that fear such sweeping legislation would lump them in with the notorious spammers.

The Tauzin-Sensenbrenner bill will be competing with legislation already introduced in the Senate by Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D.-Ore) known as the CAN SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act), which calls for unsolicited e-mail marketing messages to have a valid return address. The legislation would also mandate e-mail marketers be required to remove customers from their mailing lists if requested.

The bill gives more legal ammunition for ISPs to take spammers to court, allows the Federal Trade Commission to impose fines, and gives state attorneys general the power to bring lawsuits.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is also promising to introduce legislation to create a national “do-not-spam” registry under the FTC’s auspices and would also force Internet advertisers to put an ADV tag in the subject line of any unsolicited piece of e-mail. Burns and Wyden’s bill contains no subject line labeling requirement.

In addition, Silicon Valley Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.) has prepared a bill called the REDUCE Spam Act (Restrict and Eliminate Delivery of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail). The legislation would create a bounty for the first person who reports a particular spammer and establishes criminal penalties for fraudulent spam. Lofgen also wants unsolicited e-mail to have labeled subject lines, such as ADV.

Tauzin and Sensenbrenner’s powerful committee chairmanships in the Republican controlled House would seem to favor their legislation over the other proposed bills, and seems to track a recent survey that found American business e-mail users define the difference between spam and desired e-mail is whether the user has previously transacted business with the sender.

The survey, conducted by political and public affairs research firm Public Opinion Strategies for SurfControl, a Web and e-mail filtering firm, shows 54 percent of respondents said that unsolicited mass e-mail from a company they’ve done business with in the past is not spam. Everything else tested in the poll was considered spam.

By wide margins, respondents classified as spam:

  • Unsolicited mass e-mail that is deceptive in its subject line and hides the sender or seeks to commit fraud (93 percent);
  • Unsolicited mass e-mail, even if it comes from legitimate or well-branded businesses (82 percent);
  • Unsolicited mass e-mail on subjects or offers that interest them (78 percent).
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