|California Outlaws Spam
by Adam C. Engst
Joining the U.S. states of Nevada and Washington, California has now passed two bills regarding spam, both of which go into effect on 01-Jan-99. The Bowen bill (AB 1676) requires spammers to make spam easier to identify and filter by labeling it with "ADV:" in the subject line; adult-oriented spam must use "ADV:ADLT". The bill also requires spammers to set up toll-free telephone numbers or use accurate return email addresses to enable Internet users to remove themselves from spam lists. Violators are subject to a $500 fine for every message sent and a misdemeanor offense. The bill applies to spammers in California or those sending spam to users living in California.
The Miller bill (AB 1629), aimed at protecting email providers, allows any organization that provides email and has equipment located in California to sue spammers for computer trespass and to recover losses caused by dealing with spam attacks. The bill allows for damages of $50 per message with a maximum of $15,000 per day, or actual damages, whichever amount is greater. The bill also makes it illegal "to knowingly and without permission use the Internet domain name of another individual, corporation, or entity in connection with the sending of one or more electronic mail messages and to thereby disrupt or cause the disruption of computer services."
Neither bill is likely to eliminate spam, though the Miller bill offers some ammunition to organizations that are being exploited for spam delivery. The Bowen bill is more problematic because it in some ways legitimizes spam. It also worries some free speech advocates because of its labeling requirements. The hard part remains tracking down spammers to prosecute them; in addition to email headers, spammers also tend to forge physical addresses, phone numbers, credit card processing details, and ISP contact information. In my view, the fact that these people go to such lengths to hide indicates that even they don't believe they're engaging in legitimate business activities.