Anti-Spam Laws

Spam is unsolicited, non-­compensated commercial electronic mail sent in bulk that is usually fraudulent or deceptive in nature. On December 16, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Controlling the Assault of Non­Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN­SPAM Act), which establishes a framework of administrative, civil, and criminal tools to help consumers, businesses, and families combat unsolicited commercial email. 

This law requires all commercial email messages to be identified as such and include an "opt­out" for recipient. The CANSAPM Act:

  • prohibits commercial email that contains fraudulent headers or sexually explicit material,
  • prohibits commercial email sent to addresses via an automated directory mechanism, and
  • subjects civil and criminal penalties upon senders (spammers) who violate these terms.

Isn't spam just a modern form of telemarketing or junk mail?

No.  Unlike telemarketing calls or third­- class mail, which generally comes from legitimate businesses, spam is largely fraudulent and is not paid for by the sender.  In fact, spam can actually cost the recipient. 

Spam currently accounts for over half of all email traffic. This flooding of spam imposes significant costs on businesses and individuals who pay for disc space charges, connect time, long-­distance net connections, etc. that have to accommodate the junk email. 

Thus, spam directly costs the consumer and their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to transmit, whether it is read or not.  And, since telemarketing companies pay for phone charges and third-­class mailers pay postage fees, these advertisers are more apt to spend their resources on potential clientele, whereas spammers can obtain email accounts through a mass-­mailing directory, and send out free messages to an infinite number of people.

How do consumers and families benefit from the CANSPAM Act?

While large businesses have routinely sued "spamvertisers" in court, individuals have had little recourse for compensation, monetary or otherwise.  The anti­-spam law grants consumers the right to sue on criminal grounds if just one piece of unmarked, unsolicited pornographic material is received. This law acts in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies to reduce or eliminate the viewing of sexually explicit material by minors.  If spammers knowingly violate the requirements as set forth by the anti­-spam law, they can be faced with fines or imprisonment.

What should I do to stop getting spam?

There are a number of things you can do.  First, contact your ISP provider and alert them of the problem.  They will likely tell you to forward the junk email(s) to them, wherein they can investigate the origin and proceed in having the spammer's ISP account cancelled.  If the spammer's ISP refuses to take action, there are organizations that not only provide filtering software and blocking systems to download, but will also aid you in your fight to track and shut down the spammer. 

Since the internet is growing at such an explosive rate, and spammers are becoming more professional in their work (and moving faster than the laws set up to deter them), it is difficult to apprehend every spammer that invades your account.  However, if the spam involves pornographic material or clearly demonstrates fraudulent practices, you and your family have rights under the anti­-spam law, and are encouraged to proceed accordingly.  

What about spam filtering or just using the "opt-out" link to unsubscribe to spam?

ISP's that adopt "black lists" in order to block email from proven spam generators is an effective strategy for filtering spam.  The trouble with such screening is that the ISP's filtering system may delete messages from your account that were not spam, but may in fact had similar points of origin (thus, very legitimate, very important emails may never get through). 

The best thing to do when using a spam filter is to always check the bulk file to see if any such messages got re­routed.  Spambusters also recommends never responding to spam links in any way, as this confirms the email address is good.  The spammer may delete your address from their list, but it is often sold to other spammers, resulting in more spam, not less. 

Although there are agencies you can write to get your information removed from third-­class mailers, even telemarketing lists, there is no such equivalent for spam.  In fact, such services that advertise they can do this for you are usually spam themselves!

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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