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Senate Hears Mixed Reviews of Anti-Spam Law


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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Jana D. Monroe, assistant director of the FBI's cyber crime division, said the new law allows criminal prosecution of spammers because it makes their activity a crime rather than forcing the government to go after them as facilitators of fraud.

Monroe said the agency is relying on expertise from the Direct Marketing Association -- which represents bulk marketing firms whose messages often are drowned out by illegal spam or trapped by spam filters -- to help develop cases against roughly 50 targeted spammers. No charges have yet been filed.

But James Guest, president of Consumers Union, said the law has proved ineffective and needs to be changed. He said it places too much burden on users to "opt-out" of getting e-mail, especially since many spammers are using fake opt-out mechanisms to get past spam filters.

Guest said that Congress has given consumers rights to give a blanket no to solicitors at their door, to junk faxes and to telemarketing calls at their homes. They should have the same right to be free of commercial e-mail if they don't ask for it, Guest said.

The CAN-SPAM act directs the FTC to examine a do-not-spam list that would operate in similar fashion to the popular do-not-call list for telemarketers.

Muris said a staff report is awaiting review by the full commission. In the past, Muris expressed skepticism about the idea, and industry strongly opposes it.

But Consumers Union supports giving it strong consideration, according to Chris Murray, the group's legislative analyst.

So does Scelson, who said there would be ways to encrypt the list to prevent the names from falling into the hands of spammers.

He complained that Internet providers such as AOL are blocking his mail even though he claims to be complying with the new law. Most Internet providers impose their own service restrictions that go beyond the law.

As the hearing closed, McCain apologized to Scelson for being forced to uproot his business because of his previous testimony.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), one of CAN-SPAM's chief sponsors, suggested that Scelson's expertise might make him a candidate for employment at either the FBI or AOL.

Leonsis rejected the idea: "We're fully staffed for right now," he said.

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