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Senate Hears Mixed Reviews of Anti-Spam Law
Some Say Consumers Need More Protection


Ronald Scelson of Louisiana, a self-proclaimed former spammer, told a Senate panel he is "100 percent legal" but moved his business because of reaction to his testimony last year. (Cheryl Gerber -- Hartford Courant)

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By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2004; Page E05

Since he first testified before Congress a year ago, bulk e-mailer Ronald Scelson has been driven literally underground.

Scelson, who calls himself a former spammer who is now "100 percent legal," told a Senate panel yesterday he moved his operations from his house in a New Orleans suburb to an old, unused nuclear fallout bunker that he leased from the federal government.

But Scelson said the move had nothing to do with a five-month-old anti-spam law that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is evaluating. Instead, he said his testimony last year led to harassment and threats from anti-spam vigilantes.

Now, he said in an interview, he continues to send out between 20 million and 30 million commercial e-mails every day that comply with the CAN-SPAM law enacted late last year to curb unwanted messages.

While that is down from roughly 120 million a day Scelson sent out a year ago, several witnesses told the senators that spam overall not only continues unabated, but has grown since the law took effect.

Shinya Akamine, chief executive of Postini Inc., a spam-filtering company that handles 1.5 billion pieces of e-mail a week for businesses, said spam has grown from about 78 percent of all e-mail traffic to 83 percent this year. Other industry estimates place the figure in the 60 percent range, but rising.

Nonetheless, Akamine and other industry and law enforcement officials praised the new law and said it needs time to work.

"CAN-SPAM was the right bill at the right time for all the right reasons," said Ted Leonsis, vice chairman of America Online. "We look forward to measuring its success with more time."

Among its provisions, the law makes it a crime to falsify the originating address of a piece of e-mail, requires labeling for pornography, and mandates that bulk mailers honor requests to be removed from mailing lists.

Timothy J. Muris, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said his agency has pursued 62 cases, many of which began before the new law took effect. Asked by committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) why more cases weren't brought against the businesses that use spammers to market their products, as the new law allows, Muris said the FTC also has filed cases against those businesses.

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