Green and Wilson Take on Spam
June 18, 2003
Washington, DC - For the 3rd Congress in a row, the bi-partisan Commerce Committee team of Representatives Gene Green (D-TX) and Heather Wilson (R-NM) are moving to save consumers from bombardment by deceptive, pornographic, and never-ending unwanted emails.
Congressional momentum on spam is reaching a critical mass, and the Wilson-Green Anti-Spam Act is the toughest spam bill in Congress, said Congressman Green. We have strong bi-partisan support on the House Commerce Committee, so we will set the baseline for House spam legislation.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to consider spam legislation after the July recess. The Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, William Billy Tauzin (R-LA) supports legislation by Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC), H.R. 2214, but that bill has no Democratic support. The Senate Commerce Committee will mark-up spam legislation Thursday June 19. The Wilson-Green bill is backed by 8 Republicans and 12 Democrats, including key Energy and Commerce Committee Members.
Spam is in the eye of the beholder and the bottom line is consumers have a right to refuse email they don't want, said Green. For years, Rep. Wilson and I have been working to help consumers stop spam. Spam isn't a partisan issue; we need to attack the problem of billions of deceptive, often pornographic emails together. A strong opt-out right for consumers and protection for children is smart, tough, and fair.
Wilson and Green introduced Anti-Spam legislation in the 106th Congress. The bill sailed through the House by a vote of 427-1, but stalled in the Senate. The lawmakers teamed up again in February 2001 to introduce similar legislation, with more than 50 original co- sponsors. That legislation was scheduled for floor debate on September 12, 2001, but took a backseat after America was attacked on 9/11.
Our bill eliminates loopholes that allow spammers to evade federal requirements and deceive consumers. We will then beef up enforcement by the FTC, the States, and Internet providers, so that when spammers break the law, they pay $10-$500 per email. The worst violators could end up in jail, said Green.
Says Wilson, The legislation that Rep. Green and I have put together will give parents and consumers the power to say enough is enough and close their inbox to annoying and obscene junk email. Our spam legislation closes loopholes and gives regulators and service providers the ability to enforce spam restrictions. This bill has some teeth.
Jack Krumholtz, Managing Director Federal Government Affairs and Associate General Counsel for Microsoft Corp. said on introduction of the bill, Microsoft applauds Representatives Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Gene Green (D-TX) on their legislative efforts to combat spam. In particular, we believe that this approach includes important enforcement tools that are necessary to stem this growing problem. We look forward to working with them and other Congressional leaders as they continue to find legislative solutions to this critical issue.
Summary of the Wilson-Green Anti-Spam Act
The Wilson-Green Anti-Spam Act affords consumers greater control over their in boxes by giving them the ability to opt-out from all commercial email. The Act also provides the FTC, Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and Internet service providers (ISPs) strong tools to vigorously enforce the Act.
Affords Consumers the Ability to Opt-Out of Unwanted Commercial Email.
Wilson-Green gives consumers the right to opt-out of all commercial email from any given company. (The Act exempts a narrow class of email from the opt-out provision, such as those messages used specifically to conduct billing or facilitate transactions.) The Act also enables consumers to better identify and manage spam by requiring that all commercial email contain four things: 1) an identifier that the message is an advertisement or solicitation; 2) notice of the opportunity for a recipient to opt-out; 3) a return email address or website through which the consumer may opt-out; and 4) the physical street address of the sender.
Requires Companies to Promptly Comply with a Consumers Opt-out Request.
The Act requires that companies comply with a recipients opt-out request within 10 days, and the FTC has rulemaking authority to alter this time period. Additionally, a consumers opt-out request is valid for 5 years, just as is a consumers request to be placed on the FTCs telemarketing Do Not Call list. It is important to note that Wilson-Green enables a consumer, after he or she has opted not to receive commercial email from a company, to choose once again to receive commercial email from that company. Companies are also prohibited from selling, transferring or exchanging a consumers email address once he or she has opted out.
Prohibits Fraudulent Email and Protects Consumers from Sexually Oriented Messages.
The Act prohibits companies from sending email with fraudulent or misleading header information. Likewise, it includes prohibitions against misleading subject lines, dictionary attacks, and the harvesting of email addresses. Of significant note, the Act protects consumers from having to view sexually explicit email. Specifically, it requires companies that send messages containing sexually oriented material to contain adequate notice and to protect consumers from having to view the sexual content in order to opt-out. (This requirement is based on the U.S. Postal statute that requires that sexually oriented material be wrapped in a plain paper wrapper.)
Contains Tough Civil and Criminal Enforcement Provisions.
Wilson-Green provides full and complete authority to ISPs, state attorneys general and the FTC to enforce the Act. Such entities could seek a range of remedies including injunctions, actual damages or statutory damages. However, state laws that expressly regulate certain aspects of commercial email would be preempted. In addition, the Act provides for criminal penalties of up to two years in prison and/or $250,000 for those companies that continuously violate certain key provisions, including those provisions prohibiting fraudulent email and protecting consumers against sexually oriented messages.