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What Is The Can Spam Act?

The Can Spam Act was passed in 2003 and was one of the first laws to control spam. There is much controversy surrounding this law; many people believe it is a victory for e-mail users who are worried about risky spam, and others feel that it is a green light to certain spammers who want to foist aggressive advertisments on consumers. The law is quite strict about illegal activities, but seems to allow loopholes for regular commercial business whose spam many e-mail users also find annoying. Still others greet the law as a first step in bringing the battle against spam into the public sphere. The Can Spam Act stands for Controlling Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. Those who must follow this law are all those who send commercial e-mail that promotes a service or product.

Sending mass advertising is permitted as long as the information is not false or misleading and doesn’t involve any illegality. The agencies with the jurisdiction to enforce the Can Spam Act are the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the DOJ (Department of Justice). These agencies can enforce criminal sanctions against those who violate this law. Federal and State agencies can also serve as watchdogs and to take care of spam problems. Under the Can Spam Act, businesses are not allowed to use misleading information in their headers, and cannot use false headers as “hooks” to lure someone to open an e-mail that contains information that is different from that suggested by the header.

The e-mail must give the recipient the opportunity to state that he or she does not want to receive any more e-mail promotions from that company. Once the recipient has ordered the sender to stop sending e-mails, the sender is given 10 business days to cease from sending e-mails to that person. Under the Can Spam Act, it is illegal to sell e-mail addresses to others. Activities that are strictly prohibited under the Can Spam Act include: using other computers as spam zombies, selling e-mail addresses from those who do not want to be contacted, labeling sexually explicit material as something else with a deceptive header or subject line, and harvesting the net for private information about individuals, including e-mails. These activities can lead to a $11,000 fine or jail time. Many people were heartened by this law, while others were disappointed. The reactions were often opposite of those expected. Many spammers who simply promote their business with mass, unsolicited e-mails, but do not create spam zombies or engage in illegal activities, applauded the law as a legitimization of their business practices. Many Californians who wanted to make all spamming illegal in their state were disappointed by the laws’ leniency regarded unsolicited marketing. However, even those who were disappointed saw it as a first step toward spam regulation.

Some wonder about the effectiveness of the Can Spam Act, and indeed, about the viability of attempting to regulate the net at all. Many people receive so many spam e-mails that they do not have the energy to report every case that appears. Similarly, agencies are usually swamped with complaints, and can only deal with the most serious cases. Therefore, some believe that this is the reason the law only deals with dangerous spammers rather than with annoying ones. So, at least for now, it looks like spamming is here to stay.


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