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Congress votes for more government and more spam

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The direct mail industry and spammers around the world are cheering Congress’s
passage of the so-called anti-spam bill:


With the specter of California’s anti-spam bill looming, e-mail marketers
breathed a sigh of relief as Congress passed anti-spam legislation that
will override state laws.

The bill does not ban unsolicited commercial e-mail. [DM News print edition]

Repeat: The bill does not ban unsolicited commercial e-mail.

One problem with
it is that there are about 26,000,000 businesses in the US and the bill
gives each and
every one of them permission to send you spam. It is then up to you to
tell them to stop. And the problem with that is that while legitimate businesses
will stop, spammers will use your response
as verification of a valid email address and you get moved to their Gold
List for more spam.

Spammers also love it because it replaces stronger state laws with a much
weaker federal law, and reduces their exposure to lawsuits. It also forces
the law onto states that do not have any anti-spam laws.

Marketers roundly praised
the bill, particularly its pre-emption of more onerous anti-spam
legislation in more than 35 states. California’s
spam law was set to take effect Jan. 1. Marketers feared an avalanche

of lawsuits under the California law’s provision for private
lawsuits. Under
the federal law, consumers cannot sue. [DM News print edition]

It was a completely bipartisan sellout:

After an all-night session,
the House voted 392-5 early Nov. 22 to pass a slightly amended
version of the act. The Senate then passed
a slightly
changed version Nov. 25 that the House is expected to OK
when it returns from Thanksgiving recess Dec. 8 [it did]. The White House
is expected to sign
the measure into law before the end of the year. [DM
News print edition]

It’s another example of how a great name for a bill can entirely mask what
the bill really does (viz. Financial Modernization Act , Internet Tax Nondiscrimination

Even Forbes magazine ("Capitalist Tool") doesn’t like it: US
Congress makes no progress on spam
[Forbes 12/09/2003].

A disturbing part of this is the arrogation of control to the Federal level.
The Feds seem to have been doing this more and more (viz. energy, environmental
issues) since the Republicans gained control of the House, and I don’t see
how this squares with their claim of being for less government.

You may have to lump it, but you don’t have to like it. Write
your Senato
r and House
and tell them what you think.

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About Hal

  • I’m glad they’ve gutted the spam laws. CLICK HERE to see the other side of this from Reason.

    I hate spam too, but I’m real skeptical of legislative solutions for a lot of reasons- starting with that real spammers, the evil ones will operate out of foreign servers beyond the reach of our laws anyway.

    Read the Reason page for details on the negative effects of anti-fax spam legislation in practice, and you’ll see what kind of unintended bad results can come from ham handed legislating in this area.

  • The California spam law was ineptly drawn and was being addressed. It would have been resolved satisfactorily either through legislation or the courts if it hadn’t been preempted by the Feds.

    But spam is just a minor side-issue, and this act is really another example of the real problem.

    The problem is the consistent and ongoing sellout by Congress and the administration to business.

    In the case of spam, as the outrcry against it grew (well-founded, with more than half of e-mail being spam), the spammers and direct mail industry started lobbying congress. They found a willing ear (and open campaign coffers), and soon the CAN-SPAM Act was introduced. This has a great sounding name and all who voted for it in congress can now go home and say they voted to CAN SPAM, even though the bill preempts anti-spam laws with teeth in them, and in fact clearly gives spammers permission to spam.

    We saw something similar earlier in the new FCC rules issued by aggressively-partisan Chairman Michael Powell. A number of large media companies had exceeded the ownership limits, so rather than penalizing them for it, Powell pushed through a rule that extended the ownership limits beyond where they have any real meaning at all (the Congressional revisions have no practical effect, and the media giants keep their free pass).

    A third example relates to energy companies (with long-cherished ties to the administration, as the last two years have shown us). The EPA had enforcement actions going against more than 50 plants for violating the Clean Air Act. The administration’s response? They issued a new set of rules, effective 26 December, that will force the EPA to drop most of actions.

    Another instance of “break the law, get a free pass if you’re big business.”

    It seems to work, and they keep getting reelected so I don’t see it changing any time soon.