House passes anti-spam bill

Tired of all those unwanted commercial messages clogging up your computer’s mailbox? Well, there’s good news today, according to The Washington Post.

The U.S. House voted 392-5 in favor of a bill that would punish those who send such messages—popularly called “spam”—with fines and jail time.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-NM, who has been a spam fighter for a long time, said: “Five years ago, spam was a nuisance and now it’s a nightmare. I think today is a great victory for consumers in America. For the first time Americans who use the Internet and get e-mail will have the right to say…take me off your list.”

The bill would grant the Federal Trade Commission the power to set up a national “do-not-spam” list similar to the “do not call” list recently adopted. It would impose stiff jail sentences on e-mail marketers who violate the law.

This compromise bill would pre-empt even tougher anti-spam laws passed by some states.

Timothy Muris, chairman of the FTC, questions the feasibility of the plan, specifically the do-not-spam registry. Muris said it would be awkward and cumbersome to administer and would not stop rogue spammers. Still, he promised to work with Congress and state and federal authorities to enforce the law.

The legislation makes it a crime, carrying a jail sentence of up to five years, for e-mail marketers to conceal their identities with phony return addresses.

It also would toughen an anti-spam bill passed by the Senate last month by doubling the largest fines that could be levied from $1 million to $2 million and would close a loophole that would allow spammers to dodge some key provisions of the law in cases where they already have relationships with consumers.

Some anti-spam advocates are not pleased because the compromise bill invalidates the state measures, some of which allow individuals to sue the spammers, while the federal bill does not. California’s law permits fines of up to $1,000 per message with a cap of $1 million.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, also disliked overriding the state laws, but still supported the bill.

“This is a good bill.” he said. “There are things that we could have done that are a little better, but this is a piece of legislation that is going to solve a concern of the American people.”

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