House Reaches Surprise Spam Compromise

The measure largely mirrors "Can Spam" legislation the Senate approved last month.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House announced a surprise compromise Friday to impose tough new limits on sending unwanted commercial E-mails, moving Congress closer to its first-ever protections against irritating offers for prescription drugs, cheap loans, and herbal remedies.

The compromise would outlaw the shadiest techniques used by many of the Internet's most prolific E-mailers and would include penalties up to five years in prison in rare circumstances. The bill also would supplant even tougher anti-spam laws already passed in some states, including a California law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

The House measure largely mirrors "Can Spam" legislation the Senate approved last month, offering supporters hope that slight differences could be resolved before Congress was expected to adjourn next week. The Bush administration has supported anti-spam efforts.

"Now we can go back to looking forward to opening our in-boxes 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.

The House was expected to vote on its compromise later Friday; the Senate passed its bill last month, 97-0. The government's hurried efforts so late in the congressional session were fueled by Internet users fed up with E-mail in-boxes clogged with unwanted offers for pornography and get-rich schemes.

The compromise bill would "end all of that nonsense and bring peace of mind back to everyone who sends and receives E-mail,'' said Rep. William "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bills would prohibit senders of unsolicited commercial E-mail from disguising their identity by using a false return address or misleading subject line. They also would prohibit senders from harvesting addresses off Web sites and require such E-mails to include a mechanism so recipients can indicate they do not want future mass mailings.

Both bills authorize the Federal Trade Commission to establish a do-not-spam list, similar to the agency's popular do-not-call list of telephone numbers that marketers are supposed not to call. The FTC has criticized the idea, and the Direct Marketing Association has described it as "a bad idea that is never going to work."

"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."

The term spam was applied to unwanted E-mails after a 1970 Monty Python skit in which an exasperated restaurant customer is urged to order the canned meat product until she screams, "I don't want any Spam!"

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