Marketers back Senate anti-spam bill

Online marketers are said to be lining up behind a U.S. Senate bill crafted to limit spam, or unsolicited e-mail, though privacy advocates claim the measure does not go far enough.

A congressional committee on Thursday will hear from online marketers and privacy groups on the Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001, introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Participants at the hearing will include 24/7 Media Inc., a New York-based interactive media company, where executives are now resigned to the idea of legislation.

"It's pretty much a certainty to us now that legislation is going to occur, and at this point we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," said David Moore, 24/7 Media CEO.

Moore was at pains to distance 24/7 Media from online marketers that he claims are responsible for triggering legislation. Less-than-reputable practices that led to the bill include transmission of e-mail without recipients' consent and the absence of mechanisms for opting out of unsolicited e-mail, he said.

The bill -- also known as the "Can-Spam" Act -- would require marketers to include a valid return address on unsolicited e-mail so that recipients could easily beg off mailing lists. Also, the bill would prohibit marketers from again sending e-mail to those who have asked not to be included on the lists.

Other elements of the bill include a measure to let ISPs bring action to keep spammers from using their networks; the ability for state attorneys general to bring suit on behalf of citizens; and stiffer penalties from the Federal Trade Commission for violations.

There is also legislation pending in the House of Representatives to control spam.

But some privacy advocates do not think the legislation goes far enough.

"Two bills currently before Congress ... do not meet requirements that we consider essential: an opt-in policy and a private right of action," said Jason Catlett, president and CEO of Junkbusters.

Catlett -- who called the current failure to keep spam under control the "greatest economic tragedy of the Internet Age" -- is backed by other groups including Commercial Alert, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, and Privacy Rights Clearinghhouse.

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