Maryland Lawmakers Pass Anti-Spam Bill

Maryland lawmakers this week passed a bill aimed at “kingpin,” or high-volume, spammers that would punish offenders, especially repeaters, with jail time, monetary fines and loss of personal property.

The bill has been sent to Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for his signature. It allows state law enforcement agencies to seek criminal penalties including three to ten years in jail; fines from $5,000 to $25,000; and forfeiture of personal property.

Also, the bill contains a provision which would enable authorities to get injunctions against spammers enjoining them from continuing to violate the law, effectively putting them out of business.

While in general, the federal CAN-SPAM Act pre-empts state laws, said Maryland State Delegate Neil Quinter, co-author of the bill, “There’s a specific carve-out for state laws addressing falsity or deception in spam e-mails. We drafted the legislation carefully to fit within that carve-out.”

Quinter and co-author State Senator Rob Garagiola said that such state laws provide another set of potential enforcers for the law. “We’ve empowered everybody up and down the state of Maryland,” Garagiola said. While CAN-SPAM allows state attorneys general to file actions, Maryland’s bill allows prosecutors at the city or county level to join in the fight.

In some cases, Quinter said, local authorities might have greater motivation to go after a particular case, for example, if a local business were the victim. In fact, while the federal law focuses on consumers, Quinter and Garagiola found that businesses are equally harmed. Dealing with spam costs money and lowers productivity; it can also hurt a company’s image when spammers spoof the address of a legitimate business.

“Spam is growing exponentially,” Quinter said, “and I’m sure the feds can’t do enough.”

The legislators worked closely with ISPs, including America Online, as well as members of the business community.

AOL helped craft the bill, giving its authors input on specific spamming practices such as falsification of e-mail address headers. The ISP endorsed the bill in early March and testified on its behalf before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, also in March, once before the State Senate and once before the House of Delegates.

The company has kept a high profile in the antispam battle, working closely with state legislators in Virginia, Ohio, and Minnesota, along with Maryland. It’s also taken advantage of existing laws. Since 1996, it’s filed 28 lawsuits against more than 200 individuals and corporations accused of spamming members. In March, AOL teamed with Microsoft, Earthlink, and Yahoo! to file the first major civil lawsuits against spammers under the new federal CAN-SPAM law.

Maryland is not the first state to get tougher than the Feds on spam. In December, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General indicted two out-of-state spammers under Virginia’s new antispam statute.

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