Missouri Eyes "Do Not E-Mail" List

  |  October 25, 2002   |  Comments

Two state legislators say they want to adapt telemarketing laws to the Internet.

Some Missouri state legislators and officials say they're eager to extend the benefits of a "Do Not Call" list to Internet communications -- which might have serious ramifications for marketers.

About half of all U.S. states, including Missouri, currently offer Do Not Call (DNC) lists, which prohibit telemarketers from soliciting consumers who have asked to be listed.

Typically, telemarketers -- from either within the state, or from other jurisdictions -- face a fine for contacting homes on the list. Political parties and charitable organizations are usually not covered under the laws.

Now, Missouri State Sen. Wayne Goode and State Rep. Chuck Graham plan to extend that system to the Internet.

"Missourians with email addresses are increasingly frustrated as they have to clear out their mailboxes stuffed with messages advertising everything from get-rich-quick schemes to online Viagra to pornographic Web sites," Graham said. "Consumers should be able to protect themselves from these unwanted intrusions, much as they can with telemarketing calls under the 'No Call' law."

The concept, which will be introduced in both houses of the state's legislature next year, will have Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's office administering and enforcing the "Do Not E-mail" list, similarly to his oversight of the state's DNC list.

Nixon said the state DNC list, which is free to join, has about 1.1 million registered households. He also pledged his staff to helping Graham and Goode develop a legislative plan of action.

Part of the impetus for the email list -- which the legislators call the No-Spam List -- also stems from the fact that most unsolicited commercial email comes from shady, potentially fraudulent companies, such as those on which the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down in recent months.

"Many of the spam messages are not from reputable or legitimate businesses, adding the problem of fraudulent schemes to the burden of receiving unwanted and unsolicited emails," Nixon said. "When we reduced telemarketing calls made into Missouri by vigorously enforcing the No Call law, we also saw complaints to our office about telemarketing fraud cut in half. An anti-spam law could help reduce fraud perpetrated over the Internet as well."

The move is the first proposed legislation of its kind. While it's uncertain whether such a bill would get passed, it's also unclear how the laws would be enforced -- considering the sheer volume of unsolicited email currently being delivered and the virtual anonymity of many senders.

"The players who participate in unsolicited commercial email are not the same as in the telemarketing space," said Ben Isaacson, former head of the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM) and a senior advisor to AIM and its parent organization, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). "They don't want to abide by the same rule -- they're typically offshore, and don't want to be tracked down. In the end, it's only going to affect legitimate, commercial emailers, and it's not going to affect most of the spam in your in-box."

Also, several non-governmental efforts -- including one by the DMA -- have attempted to build similar lists, largely to no avail.

"The DMA offered the email preference service two years ago now, and it's been slow going in gaining traction," Isaacson said.

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