Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 7 News List

California passes tough anti-spam bill as users cheer

THE GUARDIAN , LOS ANGELES

Advertisers will face a fine of at least US$500 for every unsolicited e-mail they send, a move that will warm the hearts of Internet users everywhere

It should gladden the hearts of everyone who has had their fill of spam -- "unsolicited commercial e-mail" to give it its official title: the Californian senate has passed a bill outlawing it.

The toughest anti-spam legislation adopted or introduced anywhere in the US, it provides for any recipient to sue the sender for US$500.

Whether it offers the chance to enlarge or reduce parts of the body in improbable ways or amazing opportunities to make money without doing any work, spam is now part of a computer user's daily life. It is thought to account for about half of all e-mails.

Just dealing with it costs US businesses US$10 billion a year, the bill's author, Senator Debra Bowen, says. She quoted research indicating that the amount of spam rose by 86 percent between 2001 and last year, to an estimated 260 billion e-mails. By 2007, she said, the research suggested that every user would be receiving 10-plus e-mails a day.

The bill, which the senate passed by 21 votes to 12, applies to anyone sending spam to or from a Californian address.

It requires advertisers to get the agreement of a recipient before an e-mail is sent.

The recipient of unauthorized spam will get state backing to sue for US$500 for "each slice of spam," in the words of Bowen.

The litigant will be entitled to legal costs and the judge may add a US$250 fine to pay for the enforcement of the law. The judge can also triple the penalty if the sender continued to send spam.

Bowen said Californians are very privacy conscious, as borne out by the fact that half the people in the state had ex-directory telephone numbers to shield them from telemarketers, another bane of daily life.

Many Internet service providers offer services to thwart spam, but as EarthLink, which gives its users a free "spaminator" service, says: "There is no way to eliminate spam entirely."

EarthLink is due to introduce a new service next month which it hopes will curb spammers' enthusiasm by sending them confusing automatic responses, taking spam wars to a new level.

One of the problems is tracing the origin of spam. According to AOL nearly 250,000 computers around the world have been hacked into so that spammers can cover their tracks by sending e-mails from someone else's address.

Last week the federal trade commission issued a warning which detailed the ways in which spammers are using unwitting third parties to send unwanted e-mails.

Even if the bill is passed by the lower house enforcement, will remain a problem, particularly in respect of spammers living outside California.

But Bowen said the justice department was experienced in tracking down out-of-state offenders. And there is almost certain to be a company offering to do the tracking-down for a fee -- via spam, of course.

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