Senate likely to vote on anti-spam bill soon

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate may vote this week on an anti-spam bill that passed in the House on Saturday, according to a staffer for one of the Senate sponsors of the bill.

The Senate was locked in a debate over a prescription drug benefit in Medicare late Monday, but a spokeswoman for Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said she expected the Senate to take up the House version of bill this week. Burns was cosponsor of the original Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 that passed the Senate in October, but the House passed its own version of the bill, with higher penalties for some spammers, by a vote of 392-5 shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday.

If the Senate, which passed its original CAN-SPAM bill by a vote of 97-0, approves the House version of the bill, it would next go to President Bush to be signed into law.

The House version of the bill increased penalties from the Senate version, with up to $250 per spam e-mail and a cap of $2 million that can be tripled to $6 million for aggravated violations. The Senate version allowed fines of up to $100 per piece of spam sent with misleading header information, with a maximum fine of $3 million for aggravated cases.

The House bill also applies its requirements, including a valid reply-to address, a valid postal address and accurate headers and subject lines, on all pieces of commercial e-mail, not just unsolicited commercial e-mail, as required in the Senate bill, said the Burns spokeswoman.

Burns cheered the passage of the House bill Saturday. "We have all seen the negative impacts of spam and know that the toxic sea of spam threatens to engulf the very medium of e-mail," he said in a statement. "The passage of CAN-SPAM will help to stem the tide of this digital dreck."

A spokesman for Representative Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), who had introduced her own spam bill, said Wilson supported the compromise legislation. Wilson's Anti-Spam Act of 2003 would have included criminal penalties for falsifying the sender's identity in commercial e-mail, failing to place warning labels on commercial e-mail containing sexually oriented material, and the automated harvesting of e-mail addresses from Web sites.

CAN-SPAM includes a criminal penalty of up to a year in jail for sending commercial e-mail with false or misleading header information, plus criminal penalties, ranging up to five years in prison, for some common spamming practices, including hacking into someone else's computer to send spam, using open relays to send spam that's intended to deceive, and registering five or more e-mail accounts using false information and using those accounts to send bulk spam.

The rest of the prohibited activities in CAN-SPAM are subject to fines.

"It was a compromise piece of legislation," Wilson's spokesman said. "But it was legislation that was worth trying."

Others questioned if the legislation would make a difference in the amount of unsolicited e-mail users receive. CAN-SPAM will allow spammers to send "compliant spam," said Mike Adams, president and CEO of Arial Software, a developer of permission e-mail software.

Spam needs to be outlawed, Adams argued in press release, but CAN-SPAM will "accomplish no such thing" because it allows spammers to continue sending bulk e-mail until those receiving it opt out of future mailings.

"Even after this bill goes into full effect, the spam will continue to flow into the in-boxes of Americans everywhere," Adams said in the press release. "This new breed of spam, however, will now be 100 percent legal. In this spam, the headers are not forged, the subject line is not misleading, there's a fully functioning unsubscribe link, and yet the e-mail (which you never signed up for in the first place) is still screaming at you to buy the latest, greatest enlargement device or prescription drug."

Supporters of the bill said CAN-SPAM will not kill spam altogether, but it will help reduce it.

Among the provisions of CAN-SPAM:

-- Senders of commercial e-mail must include an opt-out mechanism so the consumer can tell them to stop.

-- Senders of commercial e-mail cannot use false and deceptive headers and subject lines, allowing consumers to identify the source of the message, and Internet companies to identify the high-volume senders of spam.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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