THE MAGAZINE

E-mail

A bill designed to limit the amount of unsolicited e-mail sent via the Internet became P.L. 108-187. The act defines unsolicited e-mail as any message with the primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service. Such messages must include a notice that they are an advertisement or solicitation and must provide a valid return e-mail address to allow recipients to opt out of future messages. The sender has 10 days to stop sending messages after the opt-out request has been received. The law makes it illegal to send e-mail with false or deceptive subject headings. Also illegal under the new law is any commercial electronic message that contains sexually oriented material. (Specific definitions of such material are to be set by the Federal Trade Commission.) Criminal penalties are set out for anyone who knowingly transmits spam through another person's computer without authorization. According to an analysis of the law by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)--a nonprofit advocacy group--the new act may help cut down on spam but it also has some shortcomings. For example, CDT notes that the bill lacks any individual right of action. For example, in other legislation--such as that banning junk faxes--individuals are allowed to bring claims in small claims court. The new spam law gives individuals no such right. Also, the analysis notes that the bill allows spam under certain conditions unless it contains sexually oriented material, which would be banned outright. Such an action, asserts the CDT, might violate constitutional rights to free speech.

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