Britain Urges United States to Can Spam
WASHINGTON -- Congress needs to pass some strong antispam laws, even if the United States and the European Union differ on how to classify spam, two members of the British House of Commons say.
Brian White and Andrew Miller, both members of Parliament, worry that a debate over the antispam methods considered appropriate in the EU and in the United States could shelve Congressional action. Most nations in the EU are considering imposing an opt-in approach to receiving e-mail, under which senders must first obtain recipients' permission before sending them commercial e-mail. Most of the bills pending in Congress would impose an opt-out approach, under which e-mail recipients must tell senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail that they don't want any more before the sender is required to stop.
Despite these differences, lawmakers need to pass tough antispam laws, White said at a luncheon on spam and other e-mail security threats hosted here on Wednesday by e-mail security vendor MessageLabs. Fighting spam will take both legislative and technological weapons, he added. White and Miller are in a British delegation here to discuss spam and other technology issues with members of Congress, leaders of federal agencies, and others.
"An argument that says 'opt out is better' or 'opt in is better' is going to be a very interesting argument...but it wouldn't actually move us ahead very far," White said. "If we don't find a way of working together, spammers will find a way of playing us off against each other."
Miller said he understands why backers of the U.S. First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech object to an opt-in approach, but he maintains that antispam legislation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean can be effective without being alike.
"An amendment to the [U.S.] Constitution will take years--we haven't got years," Miller said after the luncheon. "We haven't got time to have this interesting, academic debate about the meaning of the First Amendment."
British voters are swamping MPs with complaints about spam, just as U.S. members of Congress are gathering gripes, White said. Because the vast majority of spam is in English, the United States and the United Kingdom need to take the lead on solving the problem, he added.
But spam legislation in Congress seems bottled up. In mid-June, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee sent the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 bill to the full Senate. In late August, the Senate Judiciary Committee moved another bill, the Criminal Spam Act, out of committee. But the full Senate hasn't voted on either bill yet.
On Wednesday, Senator Charles Schumer again called for Senate antispam bills to include a national antispam registry similar to the national do-not-call telemarketing list. Schumer, a New York Democrat, released new poll results indicating that 88 percent of respondents are "seriously concerned" about their children receiving pornographic spam, and that three of four respondents would sign up for a national do-not-spam list.
"If parents can control what their kids watch on TV, they should be able to control what their children are exposed to on the Internet," Schumer said in a statement. "We've got parental advisory notices on music and ratings for TV shows and movies to ensure that parents have the ability to keep their children from being exposed to inappropriate materials. So it's baffling that there is no safeguard in place to ensure that parents can protect their kids from vulgar e-mail. The e-mailing public has been at the mercy of spammers for way too long."
In the U.S. House, members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have been trying to iron out the differences between two bills since the second one, the Anti-Spam Act of 2003, was introduced in June. During the MessageLabs luncheon, Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Select Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, called the Anti-Spam Act of 2003 a leading-edge bill, but he said the antispam legislation doesn't have the same momentum it had last year.
Sessions called on technology companies to reach a consensus on how to deal with spam through technological means. "Sooner or later" the United States will reach a consensus on how to combat spam, he predicts.
"If there is a consensus from people like you, who are in the business and care about the success of your industry, then I think we can move forward," Sessions said. "If there is not some bit of consensus...then we will do nothing."
Sessions challenged the tech industry to come up with a series of recommendations, "even if they're baby steps," to help the U.S. government decide how to deal with spam, both technologically and legally.