House panel examines bill to curb junk e-mail

Wednesday, June 24, 1998

A House subcommittee on consumer protection held a hearing yesterday to discuss a bill that would regulate unsolicited commercial e-mail– commonly known as spam or junk e-mail.

Although House Resolution 3888 primarily focuses on “slamming”—a practice in which long-distance carriers change subscribers' long-distance providers without proper notice–it also contains several provisions regulating “spamming”—the sending of unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The measure would require online marketers to identify themselves and to stop sending messages to consumers who request that they desist. The Anti-slamming Amendments Act also would require spammers to include in their e-mail messages “a statement that further transmissions of unsolicited commercial electronic mail” will be stopped if the consumer simply types “remove” in a reply message.

A similar measure passed the Senate last month.

The subcommittee heard testimony from various organizations, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Direct Marketing Association, which favor some form of government regulation of spam.

However, the group that takes the strongest stance against spam, the Coalition Against Unsolicited E-Mail (CAUCE), says it should have been included in the hearing. CAUCE opposes the measure, which was introduced by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), saying it does not go far enough in regulating spam and, in fact, legitimizes it.

Scott Hazen-Mueller, chairman of CAUCE, said: “Since the Internet community never got a chance to let our voice be heard with respect” to the spam proposal in the Senate, “we had assumed the House Commerce Committee, in the person of Representative Tauzin, would allow public debate on this incredibly important piece of legislation.” Tauzin is the chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with consumer protection issues.

Ken Johnson, a Tauzin spokesman, said: “It was a productive hearing. We are obviously interested in moving this legislation as quickly as possible to provide consumers with some basic safety from junk e-mail.

“The legislation is on a fast-track course because we are in the 11th hour of session,” Johnson said. “If we had the luxury of more time, we would have a series of hearings on this bill and a special hearing solely on the problem of spam. However, time does not permit that.

“Many people have said that our spamming provisions do not go far enough. However, we are entering a new age that deals with a rapidly changing medium. This is only our first crack at solving the problem. Our basic strategy was simply to get some consumer safety law on the books and see how well it protects consumers.

“If this legislation does not provide sufficient protection, we will be back to fight the battle another day,” Johnson said.

He said that the bill will be voted on by the subcommittee shortly after the Fourth of July.