Junk E-Mail Law Takes Effect in Washington State

The state of Washington’s new junk email law has taken effect, making it illegal to use false or misleading information when sending an unsolicited, commercial email.

“Junk email clogs consumers mailboxes with unwanted advertisements for some very questionable products,” said Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire. “It’s not only a major annoyance, it is also very expensive for both consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).”

She said conservative estimates indicate that ISPs spend at least $2 to $3 a month for each consumer to explain, remove and pursue junk emailers. That can add up to millions of dollars in unnecessary and unwanted costs each month.

The problem of junk email has grown substantially over the past few years. Up to 80% of the unsolicited email messages sent to Internet users contain some kind of deceptive information, she said.

Washington’s new law makes it illegal to falsify information about the sender, to use false or misleading information in the subject line and to use a third party’s email address without that party’s permission.

The law covers email originating from a computer located in Washington or sent to a Washington email address. It will not protect email users in other states, unless the message was sent from a Washington computer.

Victims of illegal junk email can use the new law to recover damages. Anyone who breaks the law can be required to pay $500 to individual email recipients and $1,000 to ISPs for each proved violation.

Would-be junk email senders are required to find out which of their intended recipients live in Washington. Gregoire urged Washington Internet users to contact their ISPs and ask them to notify senders that they have a Washington email address.

As a fallback, the attorney general’s office and the Washington State Internet Service Providers (WAISP) have set up a special registry that senders can use to identify recipient email addresses.

“This is not a perfect law, but it will start a process for changing the behavior of those who use the Internet to market their products and services,” said Gregoire.

The registry, which is a secure site, can be reached through the AG’s home page or directly at http://registry.waisp.org. Senders of email can use this registry as one of the ways to check if an email address belongs to a Washington resident.

Anyone wanting to file a complaint about illegal, unsolicited commercial email received on or after June 11, 1998 should send an email to the attorney general at junkemail@atg.wa.gov or call 800-551-4636.

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