Schumer Jumps on Anti-Spam Bandwagon

With the much-anticipated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) spam conference days away, New York Senator Charles Schumer joined the fray Monday with a proposal that would set up a national “do-not-spam” registry under the FTC’s auspices.

Schumer’s proposed anti-spam legislation would require email marketers to check the list before sending mass emails. To back up the efforts, Schumer wants Congress to spend $75 million for the FTC to run the registry on its Web site and enforce spam laws.

It would also require all commercial email to include “ADV” in the subject line, and would make it illegal to use false headers and originating email addresses.

The proposal joins the so-called CAN-SPAM Act, championed by Sens. Conrad Burns and Ron Wyden. Unlike CAN-SPAM, Schumer’s bill would create the registry, which some email marketers have said would unfairly hurt their businesses.

However, unlike the CAN-SPAM Act, which has been introduced in the last two Congresses and last year passed the Senate Commerce Committee, Schumer’s legislation has no history in the legislature.

The Schumer proposal would require email marketers to include a valid unsubscribe mechanism and would ban the use of automated email address harvesters, which many spammers use to “scrape” fresh email addresses from chatrooms, news groups and other Internet sources. Schumer calls for both criminal and civil penalties for violating the spam bill, including jail terms of up to two years. The legislation would give state attorneys general, the FTC, and Internet service providers more leeway in bringing claims against spammers.

“Legitimate companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this legislation,” said Schumer. “Right now people delete legitimate commercial email that comes along with the spam — by eliminating the spam they will have the time to pay attention to the messages that were sent only to them.”

Schumer backed up the announcement with a study that estimates New York City residents alone receive over 8 million junk emails a day and spend 4.2 million hours a year deleting them, representing a huge drain on productivity for businesses and innumerable headaches for besieged consumers.

While it is unclear whether Schumer’s efforts or the CAN-SPAM Act will gain the most momentum, the ground has certainly shifted in the debate over whether legal solutions could help the spam epidemic. In October, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) dropped its long-standing opposition to spam legislation; later, the Network Advertising Initiative’s email service provider coalition also endorsed a federal spam law.

As added momentum, the largest ISPs have identified spam as a major threat to their businesses. Today, MSN, Yahoo and AOL, usually bitter rivals, announced they would band together to fight spam.

The debate has shifted to what kind of law would help fight spam the most while hurting legitimate email marketers the least. Later this week, at the FTC’s spam forum, federal legislation will be a major topic for debate.

Already, 26 states have passed some kind of law against spam, with some limited success in targeting spammers.

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