Washington is considering legislation to can spam–unsolicited e-mails that account for up to 75 percent of all online messages–but consumer advocates fear lawmakers won’t do enough to curb unwanted messages.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., plans to introduce a bill as early as this week that is expected to move quickly through Congress, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday. But Tauzin’s bill, which targets e-mail marketers who lie about their identities or use deceptive practices, falls short of what consumer advocates say is needed.

DCInternet.com says Tauzin’s bill, which is being co-introduced with Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., favors businesses that want to continue to exploit the advertising potential of mass e-mails.

The bill seeks a compromise between consumer groups that want spam banned and legitimate businesses that still want to market via the Internet.
Tauzin’s bill seeks to cut down on deceptive spam by requiring e-mail marketers to disclose their online and physical addresses and honor consumer requests to be taken off their mailing lists. Under the bill, marketers who lie about their identities in e-mails or use other deceptive tactics could face fines and up to two years in prison

Marketers would not be allowed to “harvest” e-mail addresses from sources that guarantee they will not resell customer information. Tauzin also wants pornographic e-mails labeled as such, according to Reuters.

“Unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, can be an effective tool used to alert the consumer to new products, items that are on sale or even a new Web site,” Tauzin said in a statement in March. Many computer users don’t mind getting some unsolicited e-mails, he said, but they become a problem when consumers are inundated or they have offensive content.

But consumer groups say the sheer volume of spam is the problem, and not its content, and want Congress to go further in banning unsolicited e-mail.
Tauzin and Sensenbrenner’s bill isn’t the only one being introduced on the subject.

The CAN SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act), sponsored by Sens. Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.), would require that unsolicited e-mail have a valid return address and require e-mail marketers to remove customers from their mailing list if requested.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.) has written up yet another bill, the REDUCE Spam Act (Restrict and Eliminate Delivery of Unsolicited Commercial E-mail), which would create a bounty for the first person who reports a particular spammer and establish criminal penalties for fraudulent spam.

While Tauzin and Sensenbrenner might not come up with as catchy an acronym, their measure is given the best chance to pass because they both occupy high-level leadership seats in the Senate. Tauzin chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Sensenbrenner the Judiciary Committee.

Their bill would supersede several tougher state anti-spam laws, some of which allow individuals to sue.

The California Assembly voted May 12 in favor of a bill which would allow individuals to sue for $1,000 for each spam received in violation of the law, or actual damages, whichever is greater, according to DMNEWS, an online newspaper for direct marketers.

Current <California law prohibits sending unsolicited commercial e-mail unless the sender establishes a toll-free number or valid sender-operated return e-mail address that recipients can use to opt out of future mailings.

Jodi Mathews is news writer for EthicsDaily.com.

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