• United States
Senior Editor

People want antispam registry, Senator says

Jul 23, 20035 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalware

Trying to drum up support for his antispam legislation, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) released survey results Wednesday showing that 74% of U.S. Internet users want a national do-not-spam registry.

Schumer introduced his Stop Pornography and Abusive Marketing (SPAM) Act in June, and the bill includes a national do-not-spam registry, similar to the national do-not-call list that 28 million U.S. residents have signed up for since late June. But Schumer’s bill has not received a hearing before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and staff at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have expressed concerns that a do-not-spam list would be more difficult to administer than the telemarketing list.

Schumer said Wednesday that another antispam bill, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, may get a vote on the Senate floor before summer recess begins Aug. 4. If the Senate does not take up his legislation, Schumer promised to offer an amendment to CAN-SPAM.

“I have good support for an amendment,” Schumer said. “We have lots of different people supporting it, and best, the American public supports it. Usually, that works around here.”

Schumer and Vincent Schiavone, president and CEO of the ePrivacy Group, released results of a survey Schiavone’s company and the Ponemon Institute did in mid-July. The Web-based survey of 1,093 U.S. Internet users found 74% supported a national do-not-spam list, 79% agreed that unwanted e-mail should be banned or limited by law, and 59% said spammers should be punished.

“The support for a federal no-spam list is strong enough, I don’t think the public is going to be sympathetic to claims it’s hard to do,” Schumer said. “Americans want a solution to the spam plague that has teeth, they don’t want halfway measures. To my colleagues in the Senate, some of whom are lukewarm to our proposal, I say, ‘Pay attention, the American public is making its views known.'”

FTC staffers have argued that a do-not-spam list would be difficult to keep track of because of the sheer number of e-mail addresses people own and because e-mail addresses change frequently. FTC staffers have also questioned whether a national do-not-spam list would be tough to secure and be used by spammers to send more unwanted e-mail, but Schumer said Wednesday his staff and the FTC were working through that concern. An FTC spokeswoman wasn’t immediately available for comment.

On Monday, the Direct Marketing Association issued an alert asking its members to convince Schumer that a do-not-spam list is the wrong tactic in fighting spam. The group has argued that an e-mail registry would only hurt legitimate e-mail marketers who obey the rules, while rogue spammers would continue sending spam.

CAN-SPAM and the leading House bill focusing on spam, the Reduction in Distribution of (RID) Spam Act of 2003, do not include do-not-spam lists or the ability for individual e-mail users to sue spammers. Sponsors of those bills argue that private lawsuits would be a boon for lawyers but do little to identify and stop spammers. Both of those bills allow Internet service providers to sue spammers.

But Schumer argued that individual e-mail users should have the right to sue spammers. According to the ePrivacy/Ponemon survey, 39% of respondents spend more than 30 minutes a day dealing with unwanted e-mail, and another 36% spend between 10 and 30 minutes. Asked how spammers should be punished, 80% answered “consumer lawsuits,” while only 43% also approved of ISP lawsuits. A full 70% approved of punishment by a federal authority, the second highest answer after consumer lawsuits.

The survey resulted in some surprising answers as well, Schiavone said. Some 87% of respondents said it was OK to receive e-mail solicitations about customer-service-related topics, and 71% agreed that it was acceptable for a company to send them unsolicited e-mail if they have an offline business relationship with the company.

Asked if they ever opted out of unwanted e-mail, 37% said no, while 34% said yes. Of those who said no, 40% said they didn’t opt out because they didn’t believe the opt out would be honored, and another 38% said they tried to opt out but it didn’t work.

Forty-seven percent of respondents said they would have more confidence in an opt-out procedure if a “trusted, independent authority” verified the opt-out request. That trusted authority is basically what a do-not-spam list would be, Schiavone said.

Schiavone, whose company has in the past raised questions about how such a list would work, said Wednesday he supports the idea. “We do not see any technical reason not to have a do-not-spam list,” he said. “Securing a list of 100 million names is not difficult to do from a security and technical point of view. We do billions of dollars of transactions electronically in this country, and a lot of that information is kept secure.”

A do-not-spam list would have to be administered differently than a do-not-call list, he said, but the FTC could scrub e-mail marketers’ list of the e-mail addresses of those who signed up for the list, instead of showing the list to spammers.

“We also think it’s an important step in the correct direction of helping the consumer get control of the inbox,” Schiavone said. “It does add accountability to e-mail.”