California Assembly panel votes to fry spam

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

A bill cracking down on spammers–people who send unsolicited junk e-mail or spam–unanimously passed out of a consumer protection committee in the California Assembly on Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 1629 prohibits the sending of unsolicited advertising by electronic mail. The bill also allows e-mail providers to sue spammers for the damage they cause to e-mail networks.

Several groups, including the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, testified in support of the bill.

Scott Hazen Mueller, chairman of the coalition, told the committee: “Assembly Bill 1629 recognizes the rights of property owners to control their e-mail boxes and systems. Consumers may choose a provider whose policies best match their own preferences. It puts the burden of compliance onto the sender, where it belongs. It will simplify enforcement of anti-junk e-mail contracts.”

David Kramer, an attorney specializing in Internet issues and a supporter of the bill said that the hearing today went very smoothly and without much controversy. In fact, no one testified against the bill.

“The members of the committee recognized that they were discussing an issue that has to be addressed,” Kramer said. “The problem of spam has reached epidemic proportions.”

Not everyone supports government regulation of spam, however. Richard Kaplar, a commercial speech expert, warns that “legislative attempts to limit or ban commercial e-mail face fatal constitutional hurdles.” He said: “We don't need government overseers protecting us from electronic mail any more than we need censors reaching into our postal mailboxes or government agents on our steps warding off door-to-door salespeople.”

Kramer, who played a role in drafting the bill and attended the hearing, added that “the committee seemed intent on approving legislation that can serve as a model for other states and Congress in ensuring that e-mail abuse ends, but free speech on the Internet continues.”

The bill must still clear a judicial committee before it goes to the Assembly floor. If the bill clears the Assembly, it must then by approved by the Senate.