Spam Law Signed By Bush

Cory Kincaid
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Bush signed the Can Spam Act of 2003 Tuesday, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

Formally titled 'Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act,' an amended version of the bill was passed unanimously on Dec. 8 by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In some cases, the new spam law could allow maximum penalties of up to $6 million and five years in jail for sending unsolicited, unidentified commercial email. Although the exact definition of commercial email has still not been completely hammered out and will be left in the hands of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), including a decision on whether newsletters are considered commercial email.

According to reports, the FTC will open up a dialog with consumers and the email marketing industry over the next 12 months to tighten up the terms of the law.

The Can Spam Act will regulate all commercial email, solicited and unsolicited, according to reports, and while it will not require email marketers to do anything dramatically different, it attempts to snag those marketers that deliberately use email for purposes of fraud or deceptive business practices.

Some senators have been quoted as calling the Can Spam Act a significant step toward stopping "kingpin spammers and stemming the flow of garbage into America's in-boxes."

The House's approval of the Can Spam Act was the final step in a six-year journey to the House and Senate and is being regarded with mixed feelings by critics and lawmakers as a softer version of nearly a dozen state laws already in effect or on the verge of being enacted, like California's "anti spam bill with teeth" that was scheduled to be enacted by January, 2004.

Had California's new law not been over-ridden by the federal government, it would have completely banned Internet marketers and advertisers unless users had opted in. It also would have imposed fines of up to $1 million dollars and would have enabled consumers themselves to sue senders of unsolicited email.

Can Spam offically makes it a federal crime to use false or misleading headers. It requires the inclusion of an opt-out feature via a return email address or a form that works 30 days after the mailing of the email. The new law will require all opt-out requests to be processed within 10 days of being submitted.

Email marketers who want to remain lawful will also be required to identify the content of emails as being either an advertisement or a solicitation, and a physical address must also be included in the email.

All emails containing porn content must be clearly identified in the header, and marketers who do not comply with the new law could be punished with a prison term and stiff penalties.

According to reports out of the Washington, the FTC will enforce the new law and in some cases could impose penalties of up to $11,000 per email. The FTC will also take part in upholding Can Spam by implementing a 'Do Not Call' email registry within six months of the law's enactment for those email recipients who want to safeguard against the increasing number of email flooding their in-boxes.

State attorneys general can sue for damages of up to $250 per message with a $2 million cap, and Internet Service Providers will also be permitted under Can Spam to sue for up to $1 million in damages.