Congress moved significantly closer to the first-ever federal protections against unwanted commercial e-mails with the House passing a bill Saturday that would impose new limits on sending irritating offers on the Internet.
The measure would outlaw the shadiest techniques used by many of the Internet’s most prolific e-mailers and include penalties up to five years in prison in rare circumstances.
But it also would supplant even tougher anti-spam laws already passed in some states, including a California law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
Passed on a 392-5 vote, the House bill largely mirrors “Can Spam” legislation the Senate approved last month. Supporters hoped slight differences between the two measures could be resolved before Congress adjourns for the year. The Bush administration has supported anti-spam efforts.
“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.
Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, called the effort “an important first step in restoring consumers’ control over their inboxes.”
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 inboxes clogged with unwanted offers for pornography and get-rich schemes.
The legislation will would “end all of that nonsense and bring peace of mind back to everyone who sends and receives e-mail,” said Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La., the Energy and Commerce Committee’s chairman.
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!”