In a rare Saturday session, the US House of Representatives passed the first bill designed to protect US consumers from spam, paving the way for President George W. Bush to sign the bill into law by the end of the year. The bill, which passed by a 392 to 5 vote, mirrors the CAN-SPAM legislation that the US Senate approved last month by a vote of 97 to 0. If accepted as law, the bills will prohibit senders of unsolicited email from disguising their identities and harvesting email addresses from the Web, and require them to let recipients opt out of future mass mailings.
"Now we can go back to looking forward to opening our inboxes in the morning because we'll have notes from our friends rather than herbal supplements and mortgage offers," New Mexico Representative Heather Wilson said. Both bills authorize the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create a Do Not Spam list, similar to the controversial Do Not Call telephone list, that consumers will be able to sign up for to help ensure that they won't receive junk email.
Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, issued a statement this weekend that lent his support to the House's passage of the antispam bill. "Today's passage of the antispam bill is a milestone in the battle against spam and a major step toward preserving email as a powerful communication tool," he said. "Microsoft applauds both houses of Congress for their efforts to get a strong bill to the president before the end of the year. This legislation is a critical component of the broader fight against spam and complements the industry's own antispam technologies. It will help consumers regain control of their inboxes and support email service providers in their battle to contain the spam menace. With this legislation, the spammers who deluge computer users with billions of unwanted email \[messages\] will face significant penalties for their illegal actions. Microsoft particularly supports the strong enforcement provisions and the ban on falsifying the origin of email solicitations and illegally obtaining lists of email addresses, both of which will help Internet service providers prosecute spammers. Spam ... costs businesses millions of dollars a year and can encroach on families and children, exposing them to pornographic or fraudulent content."
Naturally, debates rage as to whether these bills can be combined into an effective, enforceable law. But, as some of the bills' supporters note, the bills are a good first step and represent an important change in federal protection of consumers and businesses against electronic attacks.