The antispam laws being considered by Congress just won’t work and may even be counterproductive, the head of the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday. Some of the proposed laws “could be harmful, or at best,” useless, FTC chairman Tim Muris said in a speech in Aspen, Colo.

“IN THE END, LEGISLATION cannot do much to solve the spam problem, because it can only make a limited contribution to the crucial problems of anonymity and cost shifting,” Muris said.

Lawmakers will consider a bevy of antispam bills when Congress resumes in September, with eight separate pieces of legislation on the table aimed at helping help consumers rid their inboxes of this digital-age nuisance.

While Muris had earlier been critical of the proposal by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mark Dayton, D-Minn, to create a “Do Not Spam” list akin to the telemarketers “Do Not Call” list, his speech Tuesday was far broader, essentially saying that Congress was wasting its time considering the proposed spam laws.

“Unfortunately, the legislative debate seems to be veering off on the wrong track, exploring largely ineffective solutions,” Muris said.

Muris complained that two of the bills would actually make FTC-initiated investigations into spammers harder to conduct.

“Proposals in both the House and the Senate require us to prove knowledge to bring an action against a seller that hires a spammer,” Murin said.

Proving such awareness could be nearly impossible, he hinted.

“I do not know why the proposals seek to make it so hard for us to prosecute problematic spam. I do know that a future FTC will not likely choose a more cumbersome statute to attack spam.”

Muris spoke at the Aspen Summit, an annual technology and telecommunications conference held by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a Washington think tank.

He also used the occasion to take a swipe at Schumer’s bill, saying there was “no basis to conclude” it would work.

“If it were established, my advice to consumers would be: Don’t waste the time and effort to sign up,” he said.

The leading bills at this point — known as the CAN Spam Act in the Senate and the RID Spam Act in the House — are expected to undergo changes in the coming weeks as provisions of competing legislation are incorporated to broaden support. But sources familiar with the negotiations say that some aspects of the final product are becoming clear.

Both bills would prohibit the sending of e-mail that attempts to disguise its source or contains deceptive subject lines and would require advertisers to include both an “opt out” mechanism and accurate contact information.

They also would impose some new criminal and civil penalties on spammers who violate the law and allow Internet service providers — but not consumers — to sue those who don’t abide by the rules.

But Murin said even those two bills fell short of what would be needed to effectively fight spam. No spam law that doesn’t help investigators find the real sender of the message would be effective he said.

“It is not apparent, however, that any regulatory solution exists for spam. Spam is one of the most daunting consumer protection problems that the Commission has ever faced,” Muris said. “Parts of these proposals can help, but no one should expect any new law to make a substantial difference by itself.”’s Michael Brunker contributed to this story.

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