US Senate committee approves stronger antispam bill

More than a half dozen antispam bills introduced in the US Congress this year have been approved by a Senate committee and sent...

 More than a half dozen antispam bills introduced in the US Congress this year have been approved by a Senate committee and sent to the full Senate for a vote.

A latest version of Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM) was approved by the Senate commerce, science and transportation committee with stiffer penalties for some kinds of activities associated with sending unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The old version of the bill set penalties at $10 (£5.97) for each piece of illegal spam sent, up to maximum of $500,000 (£298,600), or $1.5m (£895,000) if a court determines the spammer sent illegal e-mail "wilfully and knowingly".

The latest version of the bill allows fines of up to $100 per e-mail sent with misleading header information and $25 per e-mail for other violations, such as e-mail with deceptive subject headings or without a functioning return address where the recipient can opt out of future e-mail. The maximum penalties are now $3m (£1.8m) if a court determines a spammer wilfully sent illegal spam, and $1m if the court does not reach that determination.

Also subject to the fines are activities such as establishing numerous e-mail accounts in an effort to make spam more difficult to track, hijacking computers to send spam; and "dictionary" attacks - sending e-mail to multiple combinations of letters and numbers on e-mail servers in the hope that some of the combinations are valid e-mail address.

The latest version of CAN-SPAM also includes a provision prohibiting an e-mail sender from sharing or selling a person's e-mail address after the recipient has asked to be removed from the sender's mailing list.

Separately, two new antispam bills were announced this week, in addition to CAN-SPAM and six other bills already introduced.

The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) was introduced as a bill in May by senator Bill Nelson, who called for even stiffer penalities on spam containing fraudulent information. He argued that the RICO charges would allow law enforcement authorities to seize the assets of businesses engaged in spamming, but he withdrew his amendment after others on the committee spoke up against it.

Senators Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, and Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on that committee, introduced their own antispam bill, called the Criminal Spam Act of 2003.

The Hatch-Leahy bill would make it a crime to hack into a computer to send bulk commercial e-mail, and would allow criminal penalties of up to five years in prison for criminal spam violations, including sending bulk e-mail that conceals the source or destination of an e-mail, committed in the furtherance of another felony.

Representatives Heather Wilson and Gene Green also announced their own antispam legislation. Their bill allows e-mail users to opt out  from all commercial e-mail from a company, prohibits companies from sending e-mail with fraudulent or misleading header information, and criminal penalties of up to two years in prison and $250,000 for companies that continuously violate parts of the law, including provisions prohibiting fraudulent e-mail and protecting consumers against sexually oriented messages.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service

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