U.S. Senate approves antispam bill

U.S. Senate approves antispam bill

The US Senate has passed a bill regulating unsolicited commercial email and allowing fines as large as $US3 million for some types of illegal spam.

The Senate voted 97-0 to approve the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act after a compromise among members of the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee allowed an amendment authorising a federal agency to launch a national do-not-spam registry.

CAN-SPAM would require commercial email to include valid opt-out mechanisms and allows fines of up to $US100 per piece of spam sent with misleading header information.

Some critics, including the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUSE), have criticized CAN-SPAM, saying its provisions requiring consumers to opt out of unsolicited e-mail instead of opting in to commercial e-mail make it a pro-spam, not an antispam, bill.

"The problem is that I have yet to see a piece of legislation that qualifies as antispam," coalition counsel Ray Everett-Church said in May, after CAN-SPAM had been introduced.

No antispam bill has yet been approved by a committee in the US House, as members continue to debate the merits of two bills introduced there.

CAN-SPAM allows maximum penalties of $3 million for some types of spam. The bill allows fines for email sent with misleading header information, deceptive subject headings or no functioning return address. CAN-SPAM also requires that unsolicited messages include valid physical postal addresses and clear notification that the message is an advertisement.

Additional criminal provisions create several criminal penalties, ranging up to five years in prison, for some common spamming practices, including the following:

- hacking into someone else's computer to send spam;
- using open relays to send bulk spam with an intent to deceive;
- falsifying header information in bulk spam;
-- registering for five or more email accounts using false registration information, and using these accounts to send bulk spam.

Microsoft cheered the Senate vote.

Senior vice president and general counsel, Brad Smith, said in a statement that the Hatch-Leahy amendment strengthened the protection of children from pornographic email.

"These provisions not only make the overall bill stronger but help give parents more peace of mind that stiff penalties have been put in place to ward off criminals and to better protect children on the Internet," Smith said. "Spam is no longer just an inconvenience for consumers and the online industry; it has become an intrusive problem that makes it hard for people to sort through their personal email and reduces productivity."

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