July 18, 2000 3:10 PM PDT

House approves anti-spam legislation

The House of Representatives today passed the first bill that will hold email marketers accountable for the influx of bulk unsolicited email, commonly known as "spam."

The Unsolicited Electronic Mail Act swept through the House with overwhelming bipartisan support: a 427-1 decision in the act's favor. The bill will bar email marketers from sending spam unless the message gives identification that it's an unsolicited commercial advertisement; the bill also will support the enforcement of opt-out measures.

"Internet users should be given the opportunity to move out of the fast lane of the information superhighway to better control the bulk emails streaming across their computers," Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said in a statement. "By combining our efforts, we can ensure that consumers are able to benefit from the Internet without having to bear both the financial and technical costs."

Green co-wrote the bill with Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.

The phenomenon of spam has become one of the Internet's biggest blemishes. Consumer groups, privacy advocates and Internet service providers have vocally rallied against spammers, claiming the email pitches overload people's in-boxes and companies' ISP networks.

Internet companies that offer email have spent considerable resources to fight the problem. Giants such as America Online have taken suspected spammers to court, and many states have enacted legislation to fight the proliferation of spam. But early legal tests have gone against those states' measures.

Courts have so far struck down two attempts by states to rein in spammers. Judges in California and Washington state have ruled their respective attempts at anti-spam legislation as unconstitutional

The passing of today's act marks the first time Congress has enacted anti-spam legislation. Spammers will be required to include a return email address that gives recipients the ability to opt out of future solicitations. Individuals and companies will be able to take spammers to court and incur damages if they continue to receive spam after opting out.

In addition, the bill will let the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) take action against spammers. Individuals unable to take legal action will be able to file complaints with the FTC to investigate incidents and to recover penalties.

Spam watchers hailed the passing as a significant step by the federal government to curb practices commonly used by bulk emailers.

"Marketers will have to be truthful in how they send their mail; advertisers will have to be responsive to consumers who don't want to receive unsolicited email; and advertisers will have to respect the policies of ISPs," said Ray Everett-Church, counsel and board member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.

The bill will be sent to the Senate this week.

News.com's Evan Hansen contributed to this report.

 

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