Two LA spammers were ordered to pay $2 million and received various business restrictions in Santa Clara County Superior Court, this past Friday. This is the largest judgment won by government prosecutors against senders of unsolicited e-mail. The spammers are also the object of a Federal Trade Commission suit; however, both legal cases are civil suits, so there’s not much chance that the spammers will see the inside of a jail cell anytime soon.
Since 1999, almost three-quarters of states have passed anti-spam laws, but prosecutors have brought only a handful of lawsuits; success in the legal system often requires integrating case law (past judgments), and until more criminal suits are won this catch-22 will continue. Rather than pursue criminal penalties, ISPs and frustrated individuals have been using the courts by filing suit using various laws such as consumer fraud and trespass.
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved an anti-spam bill this past Wednesday: the first federal legislation to tackle spam. The Sentate bill requires bulk e-mailers to indicate a valid return address, disclose that the content is advertising, and give consumers valid and working opt-out mechanisms. In addition, the bill bans the use of addresses obtained from automated mechanisms, such as web-crawling and e-mail harvesting.
Senate bill S.877, CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, also directs the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to come up with a plan for a do-not-spam registry, similar to the do-not-call telemarketing registry.
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering competing anti-spam legislation, and may have a more difficult time reaching agreement; however, I’m holding out hope for a valid and reliable do-not-spam registry by 2005.
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S.877 CAN-SPAM Act of 2003