Colorado legislator hopes to put lid on junk e-mail

Wednesday, February 2, 2000

A measure recently introduced in the Colorado House would crack down on spamming – the sending of unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The Colorado Junk E-mail Act, introduced Jan. 26 by state Rep. Shawn Mitchell, would prohibit the sending of e-mail without disclosing “the actual point-of-origin electronic mail address of the unsolicited commercial e-mail message.”

The bill would also prohibit sending an unsolicited commercial e-mail:

  • With false routing information.

  • With a third party's Internet address without that party's permission.

  • Without including the term “ADV:” to identify the message as an advertisement.

  • Without providing “a mechanism allowing recipients to easily remove themselves from the sender's electronic mail address lists so they are not included in future mailings.”

  • The bill would also allow any person who has been spammed — including an e-mail service provider — to sue in civil court for damages. If the person spammed prevails, he or she could recover a civil penalty of $10 for each junk e-mail.

    The measure also contains two provisions providing immunity for e-mail service providers. The first would protect providers that adopt policies or measures which forbid the sending of unsolicited commercial e-mail. The second provision would prevent suits against a provider whose network has been used to send bulk junk e-mail messages.

    The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Business Affairs and Labor, which has not set a hearing date.

    Robert O'Neil, founder of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Virginia, said the Colorado bill is “not as onerous” as some other states' anti-spam legislation.

    “A few states have anti-spam laws that provide criminal penalties,” O'Neil said. “The Colorado bill would provide civil penalties.”

    O'Neil said the disclosure provisions, such as requiring the term “ADV:” would likely be held constitutional if challenged in court. He does, however, take issue with the bill's definition of commercial e-mail.

    The bill defines “unsolicited commercial electronic mail message” as an e-mail “sent without the recipient's expressed permission for the purpose of promoting real property, goods or services, or services for sale or lease.”

    O'Neil says that is a “dangerously broad definition that would likely intrude in to borderline commercial expression, or even some noncommercial expression.”

    Calls to Mitchell were not returned.