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Senate Passes Hatch-Leahy Criminal Penalties For Worst Internet Spammers

. . . Bipartisan Legislation Creates Federal Crime Prohibiting
Predatory and Abusive Commercial E-mail

WASHINGTON (Wed., Oct. 22) - The Senate Wednesday afternoon approved by voice vote legislation that would create criminal penalties to curb the technological menace clogging America's in-boxes -- Internet spam.

The legislation was adopted as an amendment to the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act or CAN Spam Act of 2003 (S.877).

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel's chairman and ranking Democratic member, authored and introduced the Criminal Spam Act earlier this summer.  The amendment approved Wednesday, drawn from the Hatch-Leahy bill, is also co-sponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

The legislation targets the pernicious problem of spam at its source by zeroing in on the most egregious offenders: Those who hijack computer systems or use other fraudulent means to send junk commercial e-mail.

"Spam is a serious problem that threatens to undermine the vast potential of the Internet to foster the free exchange of information and commerce," said Leahy. "Our legislation targets the principal techniques that spammers use to evade filtering software and cover their tracks. Ridding America's inboxes of deceptively delivered spam would go a long way toward clearing our electronic channels for Internet users from coast-to-coast." 

Internet Service Providers and employers have taken numerous and costly steps to shield customers and employees from the billions of spam launched against them each day, but the spammers are winning the battle. A recent study by Ferris Research estimates that spam costs U.S. businesses $8.9 billion annually as a result of lost productivity and the need to purchase more powerful servers and additional equipment and software.

Spam is also fertile ground for deceptive trade practices. The FTC has estimated that 96 percent of the spam involving investment and business opportunities, and nearly half of the spam advertising health services and products, and travel and leisure, contains false or misleading information.

The repercussions from spam are more than just financial. Such junk e-mail may introduce viruses, worms, and destructive programs into personal and business computer systems, including those that support our national infrastructure.

Leahy, sometimes known as 'the cyber senator' for his enthusiasm for and leadership on Internet issues, said, "I have often said that the government should regulate the Internet only when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, spammers have made this one of those times."

The Hatch-Leahy Amendment includes the following provisions:

  • Makes it a crime 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;
  • Prohibits sending bulk commercial e-mail that either falsifies the source, destination or routing information associated with the e-mail, or is generated from hijacked Internet address space or falsely registered e-mail accounts or domain names;
  • Subjects violators to stiff criminal penalties of up to five years' imprisonment where the offense is committed in furtherance of any felony, or where the defendant has previously been convicted of a similar federal or state offense, and up to three years' imprisonment where other aggravating factors exist.


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