U.S. House Passes Antispam Bill

FRAMINGHAM (07/19/2000) - By a 427-1 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed an antispam bill that would prohibit commercial e-mail messages from being sent to recipients who have asked to be removed from the sender's distribution list.

The measure would also prevent companies from sending out messages with inaccurate return addresses that make it impossible for recipients to unsubscribe from mailing lists. The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico, said passage of the act was the culmination of more than a year of coalition building after spam bills with similar intent became bogged down in Congress two years ago.

"We are one big step closer to providing consumers with the ability to free themselves from the annoying and sometimes offensive flood of junk e-mail clogging their computers," Wilson said in a statement.

"We think it could be a pretty significant piece of legislation," said John Mozena, co-founder of the advocacy group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail (CAUCE). The group has closely followed the spam issue both in the legislature and by providing tips for the public at its Web site.

Mozena said unsolicited commercial e-mail, better known as spam, chews up bandwidth and disk space, requires filtering technology on the part of Internet service providers (ISP) and wastes the time of recipients. CAUCE estimates that at least one in every 10 e-mail messages is spam, he added.

The U.S. Senate is also considering antispam legislation sponsored by Sen.

Conrad Burns, a Republican from Montana, although Mozena said that measure has less stringent regulations than the one passed by the House. For example, he said, the Senate version doesn't give spam recipients the right to sue companies that send the messages, which the House bill does.

Wilson said part of her interest in sponsoring the House bill was the amount of pornography-related messages that are sent to unsuspecting recipients. But she said she was also driven by complaints from ISPs that junk e-mail harms them by tying up and sometimes crashing their servers.

Tristan Jordan, a spokesman for Xchange Inc., a Seattle-based company that runs e-mail marketing campaigns for companies through one of its business units, agreed that spam "is bad for the industry." In addition, unsolicited marketing isn't effective because recipients usually delete spam e-mails without reading them, Jordan said.

Although the House bill is a good start toward controlling spam, it doesn't completely address the problem, Jordan added. "We think it goes beyond [what the bill would prohibit]," he said.

Margaret Johnston of the IDG News Service contributed to this article.

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