Anti-Spam Bill Clears Key Hurdle

An anti-spam bill that could have a wide-reaching effect on online marketing is one step closer to becoming law following the U.S. House Commerce Committee’s vote Wednesday.

If passed, the Unsolicited Electronic Email Act would require e-marketers to include valid reply addresses on unsolicited e-mails. It would also require direct marketing companies that use the Internet to solicit business to stop spamming users upon request.

“The legislation weeds out fraudulent spam and eliminates the burden” of deleting unwanted e-mail, according to Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas).

Stiff Resistance

While the committee’s approval is positive news for anti-spam advocates, Congress has already made several failed attempts to enact an anti-spam law. Some industry observers cite strong lobbying efforts by such organizations as the Direct Marketing Association as one reason that legislation has not yet been passed.

Even though some U.S. states have adopted laws limiting unsolicited bulk e-mail, early legal challenges have gone against them. In March, a Superior Court in Washington ruled that the state’s tough anti-spamming law violated the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Spam proponents have also argued that limiting spam violates the Constitutional protection of free speech.

However, many observers say the Internet commerce argument is flawed. In an interview with the E-Commerce Times, Alan Schwartz, who co-authored the book “Stopping Spam” with Simson Garfinkel, said, “Spam should not constitute interstate commerce, as no commercial transaction has occurred between the spammer and the recipient — by definition.”

Bipartisan Support

If a federal law is passed, it will resolve the issue of whether a state law unduly restricts interstate commerce.

Among its specific provisions, the current anti-spam bill

  • requires spam to include a valid reply address;
  • requires spammers to stop spamming upon a consumer’s request;
  • prohibits falsifying e-mail routing information;
  • requires spam to be labeled as spam;
  • allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to establish spam policies — for example, to accept all spam, to reject all spam, or to accept spam for a fee;
  • allows consumers to petition the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for a cease-and-desist order, or to sue;
  • protects innocent third parties, such as Internet backbone providers, against legal action;
  • facilitates the availability of ISP spam policies;
  • protects state laws currently used to sue spammers; and
  • pre-empts state laws regarding spam policies and other aspects of the act.

Some experts say that the present bill has a good chance as it moves toward a full vote in the House — and an eventual reconciliation with a companion bill in the Senate — because it is backed by a broad bipartisan coalition.

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