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By David McGuire washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2004; 6:31 PM
The federal government's highly touted anti-spam law is being widely disregarded by spammers, according to a new study that shows fewer junk e-mailers are complying with the statute's labeling requirements.
Only 1 percent of the unsolicited e-mail messages circulating on the Internet in May complied with the federal Can-Spam Act, despite several high-profile cases in which junk e-mailers have been sued, convicted and sentenced to jail, according to the report released by Denver-based anti-spam company MX Logic.
The figure marks a drop from an average compliance rate of 3 percent during the first four months of the year, the report said.
MX Logic based its conclusions on a random sample of 10,000 spam messages that it examined in each week of May to see if they complied with the law. The Can-Spam Act forbids e-mail marketers from putting false e-mail addresses or names in the "from" subject of their messages, requires that their subject lines say what is in the messages and that they include links that allow recipients to refuse further mailings. Violators can be jailed up to five years and sued for as much as $6 million.
"This is a little surprising to us," said Sheila O'Neill, director of government relations for MX Logic. "We're not sure why [compliance] dropped."
O'Neill speculated that two factors affected the falling percentage of Can-Spam-compliant e-mail: A growing volume of spam coming from non-U.S. sources and the failure of U.S.-based spammers to take the law seriously.
Other anti-spam companies are seeing a similar trend. Scott Petry, founder and vice president of products and engineering for Redwood City, Calif.-based anti-spam company Postini Inc., said spammers have boosted their e-mail volume in response to the development of better filtering software, though the spam rate has leveled off a bit this year.
Postini, which scans 1.4 billion e-mail messages weekly, reported that spam has accounted for almost 80 percent of all e-mail on the Internet at any given time since January.
That increase has resulted in frustrated e-mail users tired of clearing their in-boxes, as well as soaring costs for businesses. Although individuals cannot sue spammers, Internet service providers and law enforcement authorities have started to take steps to cut down on the onslaught of junk e-mail.
The nation's four largest ISPs -- Earthlink, America Online, Microsoft Corp., and Yahoo Inc. -- filed six lawsuits against spammers last March using the Can-Spam Act.