• United States
Senior Editor

Antispam bounty bill planned

Apr 28, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalware

A U.S. congresswoman plans to introduce an antispam bill that would pay a bounty to some who report spammers, and Stanford University law professor and cyberlaw author Lawrence Lessig said he’s so sure the bill will cut the amount of spam sent that he’ll quit his job if it doesn’t.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) announced her plans to introduce the Restrict and Eliminate Delivery of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (REDUCE) Spam Act during an event for Stanford law students in Stanford Monday. The bill, similar in some ways to a bill introduced by two U.S. senators earlier this month, introduces as a new wrinkle a bounty for the first person to report a spam offender, with a reward of 20% of the civil fine levied by the Federal Trade Commission against the spammer.

The bounty for spammers is an idea that Lessig has been advancing for several months, and in January he publicly bet his job on the effectiveness of a bill that would offer a bounty. Lofgren’s bill is “an example of be careful what you wish for,” Lessig said Monday. The bet would get Lessig’s detractors to “rally for this proposal,” he added.

With a civil fine of up to $10 per offending piece of e-mail, the potential bounty for those who report spam violations could be in the thousands of dollars, a spokesman for Lofgren said. Fines could be in the “magnitude of the thousands,” the spokesman said.

The bill could be effective “because prosecutors have better things to do than tracking down spammers,” Lessig said. “It will soon be not worth it to send out 10,000 human growth hormone e-mails a day.”

Lofgren said most other antispam legislation that’s been debated in Congress imposes criminal penalties, but she agreed with Lessig that “spamsters” aren’t likely to make it on the agendas of most prosecuting attorneys. “The U.S. attorneys have their hands full bringing actions against terrorists, against thieves,” she said.

Lofgren’s bill, to be introduced Tuesday, includes a number of provisions that, if broken by a sender of unsolicited commercial e-mail, would trigger civil fines. The bill requires spammers to:

  • Label bulk commercial spam as “ADV:” and bulk adult-themed spam as “ADV:ADLT.”

  • Provide valid return e-mail addresses where a person can write to opt out of further e-mails.

  • Not send any further e-mail after a person opts out.

  • Not send e-mail with false or misleading routing information or deceptive subject headings.

The bill also gives Internet service providers the right to bring civil actions against marketers who violate those requirements and disrupt their networks, and it allows for criminal fines and up to a year in prison for fraudulent spam.

Also Monday, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo announced an antispam initiative.  Their combined effort will include the identification of suspicious e-mail headers, better feedback options for consumers across the different e-mail service providers, and closer cooperation with law enforcement authorities.

“People are tired of hearing ‘you’ve got junk mail’ when they open their e-mail in-boxes,” Lofgren said. “Companies and ISPs are spending millions of dollars a year in trying to manage this problem.”