Senate Amends, Approves Spam Bill
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate approved a national spam bill on Tuesday that would allow fines of up to $6 million or jail terms of up to five years for some spammers. But the bill's legislative journey is not over yet.
The Senate, by unanimous consent, approved the House version of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003. The bill must now return to the House for final approval because the Senate version included some technical corrections to the House version, said a spokesperson for Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), a cosponsor of the Senate CAN-SPAM bill.
The House is expected to schedule a final vote on the bill for December 2. If passed, it will then go to President Bush to be signed into law. The House voted 392-5 Saturday to approve its pumped-up version of CAN-SPAM, which originally passed the Senate in October.
Critics have charged that CAN-SPAM doesn't go far enough. They say it will allow some spam to continue because the bill requires that e-mail users opt out of receiving commercial e-mail, instead of requiring that spammers receive opt-in permission before sending messages.
Some critics have also decried the authors' decision not to allow individual e-mail users to sue spammers. CAN-SPAM allows Internet service providers to sue spammers, and it permits state attorneys general to sue on behalf of users.
This version of CAN-SPAM also includes a provision requiring the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to come back to Congress within six months with recommendations on how to set up a national do-not-spam list, similar to the national do-not-call telemarketing list now in effect in the United States.
In the Slammer
CAN-SPAM won't eliminate all spam, but it will help, said Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York Democrat), who pushed for the do-not-spam provision. "If we did nothing, e-mail would be ruined in a few years and nobody would use it," Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "With this bill, Congress is saying, 'If you're a spammer, you could wind up in the slammer.'"
CAN-SPAM sets a criminal penalty of up to a year in jail for sending commercial e-mail with false or misleading header information. It also imposes criminal penalties, ranging up to five years in prison, for such common spamming practices as hacking into someone else's computer to send spam, using open relays to send intentionaly deceptive spam, and using false information to register five or more e-mail accounts and using those accounts to send bulk spam.
The House version of the bill stiffened the penalties established in the original 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 had 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 applies its requirements to all pieces of commercial e-mail, not just to unsolicited commercial e-mail, as had been stipulated in the Senate bill. Requirements include a valid reply-to address, a valid postal address, and accurate headers and subject lines.