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“Take back your mailbox!” That’s the slogan of a Net-based lobby called the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, and it represents a sentiment that is gaining favor in Washington, D.C., these days. Earlier this month, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, revived a spam-busting bill that won bipartisan support by more than 40 co-sponsors last year. Though it ran out of steam last year, some believe that it may have a better chance this session as congressional and constituents’ inboxes are increasingly clogged with unwelcome messages. The Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001, a bipartisan effort co-written by Green and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., forbids the use of e-mail forgery techniques to disguise origins of messages, requires authentic opt-out provisions and mandates compliance with Internet service providers’ policies against spam. If it passes, Net users may find they have more control over what comes into their inboxes, and — perhaps most significantly — spammers could face fines of up to $150,000. “That should be enough to catch the attention of even the larger spammers,” says Ray Everett-Church, the San Jose, Calif., attorney and antispam activist who co-founded CAUCE. Because there is currently no federal antispam legislation, local prosecutors have used consumer protection laws or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to curtail the problem. Last month, a Los Angeles judge sentenced two Russian emigres to 27 months each in federal prison and ordered them to pay $104,000 in restitution after they scored about $250,000 running a scam that involved sending more than 50 million e-mail messages asking people for money in exchange for job information. The trouble is, spam that doesn’t break federal fraud statutes remains legal. Additionally, antispam bills have fared poorly in state courts. Judges in both California and Washington have overturned state legislation against unwanted e-mail, ruling that a commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution forbids local laws that affect other jurisdictions by cutting across state lines. That’s why Green and others believe that a national law could help contain the problem. Reactions to the draft legislation are mixed, assome antispam activists believe that it doesn’t go far enough, and others take issue with a section of the bill that says spam, properlyused, can be an important business tool. Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, a privacy advocacy group, disputes the notion of spam as a viable business tool but concedes that the law is a move in the right direction. “It’s not a cure-all,” adds Atlanta attorney Doug Isenberg, who publishes a daily digest of legal developments called GigaLaw.com. “But it’s a well-thought-out piece of legislation.” The trick was to curtail spam without violating the First Amendment’s free speech provisions. Isenberg points out that although the bill avoids that issue, a federal antispam law may simply prompt people who want to send spam to do so from other countries. “What jurisdiction will a U.S. court have over someone sending wholesale e-mails from Brazil?” Despite the obstacles, Green, Everett-Church and other antispam advocates believe that the time is now for federal legislation against unwanted e-mail. By some estimates, more than one-third of Internet service providers’ daily traffic is composed of spam, and some ISPs say the problem forces them to add several dollars per month to each customer’s bill. “Scale that up to AOL levels, and we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” Everett-Church says. And he notes that the problem is self-perpetuating: “Half the spam I see advertises software for creating your own spam.” In other words, it’s time to help Americans take back their mailboxes. Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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