By: Congressman Lamar Smith
Spam is the junk mail of the information age. Americans receive millions of spam e-mails for pornography, miracle cures, college diplomas or get-rich-quick schemes. These e-mails are largely worthless.
Yes, e-mail is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to keep in touch with friends and family whether they live across the street or across the country. But just as our postal boxes sometimes contain unwelcome mail, our e-mail in-boxes collect spam.
When unwanted mail is hand-delivered to your home or post office box, you can ask the postmaster not to deliver it. When telemarketers call you at home you can ask to be taken off their solicitation list. But there is limited recourse for citizens whose e-mail boxes are over-run with spam.
Many spam messages say "please send a REMOVE message to get off our list." We should not have to do anything to get off a list we never asked to join.
Unfortunately, spam accounts for more than half of all e-mail traffic. Since Internet providers can only handle a finite volume of e-mail without making further investments in their operations, the growth in spam has imposed significant costs on businesses, and other organizations.
Microsoft currently has 60 lawsuits filed against spammers. The company has won six cases, settled four out of court and been awarded $54 million in judgments.
Many spammers use a "hit and run" technique. They set up an account with an Internet provider for a few days, send tens of thousands of messages, then abandon the account (unless the provider notices what they're doing and cancels it first).
The unsuspecting provider has to clean up the mess. Many spammers have done this dozens of times, which has forced providers to waste staff time on the cleanup and monitoring of accounts.
Spam probably can't be eliminated completely, but it can be controlled. In an Oval Office ceremony last December, President Bush signed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM Act), which creates a framework of administrative, civil, and criminal tools to help America's businesses, and families combat spam.
The problems associated with spam cannot be solved by Federal legislation alone. We need across-the-board co-operation from Internet providers and rigorous enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission and the states' Attorneys General. Nonetheless, the law helps address the problems associated with the rapid growth and abuse of spam.
The CAN-SPAM Act allows consumers to reject unsolicited messages. Senders that do not honor the request are subject to civil penalties. It also establishes new criminal penalties to deter the most offensive forms of spam, including unmarked sexually-oriented messages and e-mails containing fraudulent headlines.
The law has now caught up with technology, especially where families and businesses are forced to endure large amounts of objectionable material over the Internet. This is an issue of consumer protection, privacy and private property. Spam senders will be held accountable for their irresponsible behavior.