Bush signs bill aimed at controlling spam

President George W. Bush signed a bill into law Tuesday establishing federal rules for commercial e-mail and penalties for unsolicited mass spamming.

Known as the CAN-SPAM Act, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 takes effect Jan. 1. The law prohibits the use of false header information in bulk commercial e-mail and requires unsolicited messages to include opt-out instructions. Penalties for violations include fines of up to US$250 per e-mail, capped at up to $6 million.

The bill's authors, Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns and Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, praised the legislation as a powerful tool for countering the spam onslaught cluttering inboxes.

"Swift and aggressive enforcement will be essential, and Senator Burns and I will continue to push the Federal Trade Commission and others to use the tools this law gives them to fight against spam," Wyden said in a written statement.

Several major ISPs (Internet service providers) and e-commerce companies lined up to endorse the legislation. America Online hailed the CAN-SPAM Act's passage as a "watershed event" that will help defeat spammers relying on fraud and evasion, while eBay called the enactment "great news." Yahoo said the legislation is "a victory for consumers and the Internet" and will provide important new legal weapons for businesses fighting spam.

Critics of the bill, however, argue that its effects will be mostly ceremonial. Bulk e-mail operators outside the U.S. will be beyond the law's jurisdiction, and the act overrides state antispam laws that are in some areas stronger than the new federal regulations.

The new law is unlikely to change spammers' behavior, research firm Gartner said in an advisory. The research firm still expects filtering technologies and e-mail management policies to be the best way for businesses to fend off unwanted messages. IDC estimated in a recent study that spam constitutes 32 percent of the e-mail volume sent daily in North America, up from 17 percent two years ago.