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Anti-Spam Bills Gathering Momentum

April 2001

Two bills imposing restrictions on senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail (or "spam") are progressing through the legislative process. The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently approved the Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act (H.R. 718), sponsored by Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM). The bill prohibits sending spam without a valid return address and requires spammers to honor a customer's choice to opt-out from receiving more unsolicited messages. The proposed law could be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC"), state attorneys general and private causes of action. Some controversy lingers around provisions that give Internet service providers the right to sue those who send spam in violation of their private anti-spam policies.

During the last congressional session, similar legislation passed the House by an overwhelming margin, and the current bill now has 101 cosponsors. Because it imposes criminal penalties for sending fraudulent spam, the measure has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which has until June 5 to consider the measure. Thus far, the House has moved quickly to markup this legislation and possibly could pass it this summer. Objections lodged by the financial services sector and the direct marketing industry slowed its progress only slightly.

Some bipartisan support exists in the Senate for a companion anti-spam bill. In March, Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT), Ronald Wyden (D-OR) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced the "Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act" or the "CAN SPAM Act of 2001" (S. 630). Like H.R. 718, the Senate bill seeks to provide consumers with information needed to opt-out from receiving spam and impose criminal penalties for sending spam with fraudulent header information.

For additional information, please contact John Kamp (202.719.7216 or) or Amy Worlton (202.719.7458 or).