House Passes Bill That Would Limit Spam, Punish Violators

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have passed a bill that would limit spam by outlawing the most misleading techniques used by commercial bulk e-mailers.

The Saturday vote marked another step toward a nationwide approach to fighting unsolicited e-mail. Online marketers supported a national law because it would be easier than complying with conflicting state regulations. The measure would supplant an even stricter California state law that goes into effect Jan. 1.

The House bill, approved on a 392-5 vote, is similar to legislation the Senate passed last month. Supporters believe the slight differences between the two measures can be worked out before Congress adjourns for the year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The bills would ban senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from disguising their identity by using a false return address or misleading subject line. They also would stop marketers from gathering addresses off websites and require such e-mails to include a way for recipients to indicate they don't want future mass mailings. In rare cases, marketers could be penalized by five years in jail.

"Now we can go back to looking forward to opening our inboxes in the morning because we'll have notes from our friends rather than herbal supplements and mortgage offers," said Rep. Heather Wilson (R, N.M.).

Both bills authorize the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to establish a do-not-spam list, similar to the agency's popular do-not-call list of telephone numbers, but the FTC is against the idea, as is the Direct Marketing Association.

"It's not going to solve all the problems, but it's the first real step," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.). "The public is demanding something. It's going to happen. We're going to get it done."

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