Senate approves spam bill, goes back to House

The US Senate has approved a national spam bill that would allow fines of up to $US6 million or five-year jail terms for some spammers, but the bill's legislative journey is not over yet.

The Senate, by unanimous consent, approved the House version of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003, but the bill needed to go back to the House for final approval because the Senate version included some technical corrections to the House version, said a spokesperson for Senator Conrad Burns who was a co-sponsor of the Senate CAN-SPAM bill.

The House is expected to schedule a final vote on the bill December 2, after which the bill would go to President Bush to be signed into law. The House voted 392-5 to approve its pumped-up version of CAN-SPAM, which originally passed the Senate in October.

Critics have said CAN-SPAM would allow "legal" spam to continue because it required that email users opt out of receiving commercial email, instead of requiring that spammers receive opt-in permission before sending email. Some critics have also decried the bill authors' decision not to allow individual email users to sue spammers. CAN-SPAM allows Internet service providers to sue spammers and state attorneys general to sue on behalf of users.

This version of CAN-SPAM also includes a provision requiring the US Federal Trade Commission to come back to Congress within six months with recommendations on how to set up a national do-not-spam list, similar to the national do-not-call telemarketing list now in effect in the US.

CAN-SPAM would not eliminate all spam, but it wouldhelp, said Senator Charles Schumer who pushed for the do-not-spam provision.

"If we did nothing, e-mail would be ruined in a few years and nobody would use it," Schumer said. "With this bill, Congress is saying, 'If you're a spammer, you could wind up in the slammer.'"

CAN-SPAM includes a criminal penalty of up to a year in jail for sending commercial email with false or misleading header information, plus criminal penalties, ranging up to five years in prison, for some common spamming practices, including hacking into someone else's computer to send spam, using open relays to send spam that's intended to deceive and registering five or more email accounts using false information and using those accounts to send bulk spam.

The House version of the bill increased penalties from the Senate version, with up to $US250 per spam email and a cap of $US2 million that can be tripled to $US6 million for aggravated violations.

The Senate version allowed fines of up to $US100 per piece of spam sent with misleading header information, with a maximum fine of $US3 million for aggravated cases.

The House bill also applies its requirements on all pieces of commercial email, not just unsolicited commercial email, as required in the Senate bill. Requirements include a valid reply-to address, a valid postal address and accurate headers and subject lines.

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