Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Put the Wham on Spam

April 06, 2002

There ought to be a law against spam, irritating, unsolicited e-mail pushing porn, offering "miracle cures" and promising riches at the click of a mouse. Actually, there are lots of state laws. But they are rarely enforced. That's why Congress should protect consumers by passing tough legislation that would allow those who abhor spam--and who doesn't?--to opt out of getting unwanted e-mail.

U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) has introduced a bill that would require spammers to honor requests to remove names from their lists. The legislation got out of committee and was scheduled for a floor vote shortly after Sept. 11. The attack shifted priorities and that vote never happened. But it's not too late. Although the bill has not been scheduled, Congress, led by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, is taking a closer look at Internet legislation.

Washington should crack down on spammers, especially those that offer an "unsubscribe" option to e-mail recipients but use the confirmation of a live address to send even more unwanted e-mail. The size, expense and difficulty of the problem make this a job for Washington. Federal prosecutors have plenty of experience with cases that involve interstate commerce, fraud and computers. The feds could also prevent spammers from sending e-mail to every state.

As many as one of three e-mail messages comes from a spammer who gets paid for getting the ad to a live address. The senders hide behind false return addresses, sneak through loopholes in Internet service provider systems or quickly change identities after broadcasting millions of unwanted ads touting everything from mortgages to child pornography and images of bestiality. Their messages clog e-mail inboxes, create time-consuming hassles and even crash systems.

Twenty states, including California, have set reasonable restrictions, but these laws are rarely enforced, according to a study by Times staff writer David Colker. The reasons for the lax enforcement range from lengthy legal challenges to the time and expense involved in tracking down illegal senders.

In January, a California appeals court panel upheld the state law that regulates businesses that send unsolicited e-mail ads. That law requires spammers to clearly indicate that their messages are ads, include real return addresses and provide ways for recipients to get off their e-mail lists. The law was passed in 1998, yet spammers still do business freely.

In the free-wheeling early days of the Internet, spam amounted to a small annoyance easily handled by hitting the delete key. Not anymore. As e-mail grows exponentially, spammers get ever more sophisticated. For the Internet to reach its full potential, e-mail users need help from lawmakers in blocking the daily avalanche of spam.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|