US president George W Bush has signed a bill into law establishing federal rules for commercial e-mail and penalties for unsolicited mass spamming.
The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, better known as Can-Spam, takes effect on 1 January. 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 $6m.
Several major ISPs and e-commerce companies lined up to endorse the legislation. America Online hailed Can-Spam'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 bulk e-mail operators outside the US will be beyond the law's jurisdiction, and the act overrides state antispam laws, which in some areas are stronger than the new federal regulations.
Gartner predicted that Can-Spam is unlikely to change spammers' behaviour saying that filtering technologies and e-mail management policies are the best way for businesses to fend off unwanted messages.
IDC estimated in a recent study that spam constitutes 32% of e-mails sent daily in North America, up from 17% two years ago.
Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service