Putting the spam back in the can harder than it looks

Starting Jan. 1, unwanted and unsolicited e-mails, or spam, will be regulated. Critics, however, say that this will effectively legalize some e-mail spam, which can hardly be in the interest of the consumer.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bill titled as “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act,” (CAN-SPAM) that reaches a compromise between spam advocates and those who detest “junk e-mail.”

Early Saturday morning, the House passed a bill on a 392-5 vote, which mirrors the Senate’s CAN-SPAM legislation. If President Bush signs these measures, as he indicated to CNET News.com, then certain forms of spam will become legalized. Spam users, who represent about 23 million of U.S. businesses according to Spamhaus.com, will be allowed to send as many “commercial electronic mail messages” as they please, provided that all the messages are accompanied by a legitimate U.S. postal address and an unsubscribe link on the bottom. It would then be left up to the user to stop the incoming “junk” messages by unsubscribing through the link. The identity of the spam sender must be clear and legitimate, as it will become illegal for them to use false return addresses and subject lines — an action potentially punished by jail time.

CAN-SPAM also permits the Federal Trade Commission to create a “do-not-spam” registry, similar to the “do-not-call” list that went into effect Oct. 1.

California was in the process of passing a strong anti-spam law, making spam illegal entirely in the state if consumers had not specifically requested the mail they receive.

CAN-SPAM, if passed, will override the “opt-in” version of that law, replacing it with the national “opt-out” instead.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates jumped on the anti-spam bandwagon, noting that junk e-mails cost businesses millions of dollars a year, as well as expose children to distasteful subject matter. Gates referred to the House vote as, “a milestone in the battle against spam and a major step toward preserving e-mail as a powerful communication tool.”

While many anti-spam advocates would urge the U.S. legislation towards harsher methods, the passing of the CAN-SPAM law helps to please both sides of the e-mail inboxes. While businesses will still be allowed to advertise penis enlargement pills, consumers are now protected from former spam trickery. Gone are the days when the consumer would open a deceitful email from JaneDoe@somewebsite.com titled, “Hey you, how’s it going?” After Jan. 1, “Jane” will be required to inform the consumer of her pornographic intentions.

To put the responsibility on the consumer to opt out, though, is the wrong approach. The main complaint about spam is that it costs time to sort through it. Now that consumers also have to respond to e-mail in order not get any more, it makes it even more work-intensive.