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National registry planned

November 23, 2010
Anti-spam bill signed by president

President Bush on Dec. 16 signed the so-called "can spam" bill, legislation meant to stem the flood of unwanted e-mail pitches that irritate Internet users and drain the economy. The bill supplants anti-spam laws already passed in 35 states. The new law does not outlaw all unsolicited commercial e-mail. Businesses still can send messages to anyone with an e-mail address as long as they identify themselves clearly and honor any consumer requests to leave them alone. The first federal law to fight spam forbids the persistent techniques used by e-mailers who send tens of millions of messages each day to sell their products and services. The law also authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to set up a "do-not-spam" registry similar to the "do-not-call" registry that began earlier this year. Senders of unsolicited e-mails are prohibited from disguising their identity by using a false return address or misleading subject line. It also prohibits senders from harvesting addresses off Web sites and requires such e-mails to include a mechanism so recipients can indicate they do not want future mass mailings. Since the first spam bill was introduced in Congress in 1998, junk mail has grown from a nuisance to a plague. Spam now makes up more than half of all e-mail, according to several surveys, and even online marketers have come to support some restrictions. For years, experts discouraged Internet users from replying to unwanted e-mails with requests to be removed from future mailings because that verifies that spam was sent to a valid address. Under the new law, however, marketers are required to honor such do-not-send requests after the first unsolicited advertisement. Also under the new federal law, consumer lawsuits against spammers are prohibited, but consumers may sue Internet service providers for damages. In rare cases, penalties for spammers can include prison of up to five years. "This is one of the more sweeping Internet regulatory schemes we've seen," said Alan Davidson of the Washington- based Center for Democracy and Technology. Although Davidson criticized parts of the anti-spam bill, he said consumer frustration drove lawmakers.