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New Spam Legislation Won't End Unwanted Mail

On Nov. 22, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 392 to 5 to pass the Can Spam Act of 2003, which is designed to put controls on the distribution of spam.

For once, the House and Senate saw eye to eye, more or less: The House version is an only slightly modified version of the Can Spam Act (S.877) passed by the Senate in October, and it's expected to be signed by the president early next year.

But the word can may be interpreted in two ways--obliterate spam, or allow it. And that pretty much sums up how the legislation can be interpreted. It puts some limitations on unsolicited commercial e-mail, but it doesn't disallow spam completely. It allows for creation of a Do Not Spam Registry, equivalent to the successful Do Not Call Registry, but it trumps stronger laws that have been passed by state legislatures--California's spam law, for example, has an opt-in requirement and gives individuals the right to sue spammers.

More on the Plus Side

The new Can Spam Act contains some other potentially effective components. Specifically, it prohibits false or misleading transmission information and deceptive subject headings, and it requires a valid functioning return address or comparable mechanism to which recipients can respond. It also mandates that the sender of commercial e-email include information identifying the message as an advertisement or solicitation, as well as opt-out and physical addresses.

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