The Senate approved slight changes Tuesday to legislation aimed at reducing unwanted commercial e-mails, so the House will have to vote again next month before the bill can be sent to the White House. The Senate’s approval came in a voice vote for the “Can Spam” Act, which would outlaw the shadiest techniques used by the Internet’s most prolific e-mailers. Lawmakers said the changes in the Senate’s latest version were inconsequential, including corrections over references to mistaken section numbers.
“If you're a spammer, you could wind up in the slammer,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. He acknowledged criticisms about the bill but said Congress was compelled to try to stop the worst tactics used by online marketers. “If we did nothing, e-mail could be ruined within a few years,” Schumer said.
The House, which approved an earlier version 392-5 on Saturday, has already recessed for Thanksgiving until Dec. 8, delaying final congressional approval of the anti-spam bill for nearly two more weeks. The White House already has said President Bush intends to sign it.
Even the unexpected delay, however, means the legislation could be enacted before Jan. 1. The federal law would supplant even tougher anti-spam laws already passed in some states, including a California law that takes effect New Year’s Day.
One of the authors of the new California law urged Bush not to sign the bill.
“It’s the biggest turkey the president will see all week and he should stuff it the moment it lands on his desk,” said state Sen. Debra Bowen, a Democrat.
Critics of the federal effort said it should have more closely mirrored California’s effort, which requires online marketers to obtain a consumer’s permission before sending them any e-mails. The U.S. bill requires unsolicited sales offers to include a mechanism so recipients can indicate they do not want future mass mailings.
Building on the overwhelming popularity of the national “do-not-call” registry for telephone marketers, the anti-spam bill encourages the Federal Trade Commission to create a do-not-spam list of e-mail addresses.
The FTC has criticized the idea, but Schumer said Congress would ensure the FTC actually sets up such a list by passing a new law or by threatening the agency’s funding.
“We are going to make this no-spam registry a reality within a year,” Schumer said.
The bill includes penalties for spammers of up to five years in prison in rare circumstances. It also would prohibit senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from disguising their identity by using a false return address or misleading subject line, and it would prohibit senders from harvesting addresses off Web sites.