Senate Panel Stiffens Spam Penalties

Legislation calls for up to five years in prison for most abusive spammers. Anti-Spam Bills Stalling in House
Posted September 26, 2003

Roy Mark

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday intended to deter the most abusive spammers with jail sentences up to five years. The criminal provisions that make up the Criminal Spam Act of 2003 target those who use fraudulent and deceptive means to send unwanted e-mail messages.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed the Can Spam Act on July 16 and Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) said he hopes the two bills can be combined. No floor vote has been scheduled on either bill.

In the House, competing anti-spam legislation has stalled any action and with both chambers still planning to adjourn for the year next Friday, actual anti-spam legislation appears unlikely for the first session of the 108th Congress.

The Criminal Spam Act makes it a criminal offense to hack into a computer, or to use a computer system that the owner has made available for other purposes, as a conduit for bulk commercial e-mail. It also prohibits sending bulk commercial e-mail that conceals the true source, destination, routing or authentication information of the e-mail, or is generated from multiple e-mail accounts or domain names that falsify the identity of the actual registrant.

Repeat offenders and those who send spam to commit another felony would face up to five years in jail under the bill's the provisions. Those who hack into another's computer system to send spam, those who send large numbers of spam, and spam "kingpins" who direct others in their spam operations, face up to three years' imprisonment.

Other illegal spammers face up to a year in prison. The bill provides additional deterrence with criminal forfeiture provisions and the potential for sentencing enhancements for those who generate e-mail addresses through harvesting and dictionary attacks.

"I believe enactment of the Criminal Spam Act of 2003 is an important first step toward curbing predatory and abusive commercial e-mail, but it is certainly not the end," Hatch said. "We all recognize that there is no single solution to the spam problem. While we must critically and continually monitor the effectiveness of any legislative solution we enact, we must pursue other avenues as well. Technological fixes, education and international enforcement are integral components to any effective solution. To this end, we will need the assistance of private industry and our international partners."

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