Spam Law Goes Into Effect

Tina Reilly
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After months of arguments and prolonged discussions, the White House ended its deliberations over how to combat the national deluge of spam, and just in time for the Thanksgiving recess.

The nearly unanimous vote in the U.S. Congress sent the "Can Spam Act of 2003" into President Bush's hands for a signature before being enacted in law; the final step in a tedious process that has drawn criticism from anti-spam advocates at a time when many international countries have made serious efforts to protect businesses and individual users from what has become a worldwide plague.

After getting the green light in the House of Representatives with a 392 to five vote this past weekend, the U.S. Senate was the final hurdle in signing the bill that will enforce severe penalties for the senders of unsolicited email.

Under the new legislation, email solicitations will have to include an "opt-out" link to click on. In addition, spammers who deliberately flood email in-boxes with advertisements can be penalized for up to $2.78 million, an amount that can be tripled to $8.35 million for intentional violations.

Congress has admitted that the new law is just one weapon against the spam war and the first effort put forth by the Federal Government to actively participate in curbing the amount of unwanted email that circulates through nationwide email boxes.

However, aside from anti-spam legislation that will go into effect on Jan. 1 in California, the international community has been far ahead of the U.S. in its attempts to eradicate spam.

Since September, government mandates have been underway in Australia, Italy, and Britain.

Australia's House of Representatives passed national anti-spam legislation that would penalize repeat spam offenders as much as $733,000 (U.S.), in addition to unlimited legal fees.

Britain followed suit by passing a law that fines spammers upwards of $8,057 (U.S) if convicted on charges of spamming via email or text messaging. That law would only cover home users and goes into effect on Dec. 11, 2003. And Italy recently stepped up to the plate and drafted a law that would fine spammers up to $100,000 (U.S.), and in some cases would carry a three-year prison term.

As soon as President Bush signs the "Can Spam Act," the U.S Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will create a no-spam registry and will implement the plan within nine months.

The FTC's "do-not-spam" registry will be similar to the nationwide do-not-call list for telemarketers. It would enable consumers to opt-out of receiving future spam, and it would allow the FTC, state attorney generals, and Internet service providers to seek civil damages against spammers for $25 to $300 per email, and jail terms of up to five years.

"With this bill, Congress is saying that if you're a spammer, you could wind up in the slammer," said New York Senator Charles Schumer.

"There's no single solution to solving the spam scourge, but this bill takes a number of needed steps to help people reclaim their inboxes," he continued. "The public will finally get some help curbing the onslaught of unwanted email that threatens the viability of the Internet."