Congress gets creative to fight unwanted email

Charging spammers with racketeering crimes and rewarding spam victims with a financial bounty are among the more creative solutions proposed by members of the US Congress to the problem of unsolicited email.

Charging spammers with racketeering crimes and rewarding spam victims with a financial bounty are among the more creative solutions proposed by members of the US Congress to the problem of unsolicited email.

Legislation from senator Bill Nelson (Democrat-Florida) allowing racketeering charges against spammers would enable authorities to seize the spammers' assets and let private citizens file lawsuits against them.

Meanwhile, Republican Zoe Lofgren's bill would give the first person who reports an illegal spammer a bounty of 20% of the fine the US Federal Trade Commission eventually imposes, creating the potential for fines of $US100,000 and rewards of $US20,000 or more.

Nelson's bill addresses criticisms from antispam activists (at an FTC forum in May) that proposals like Lofgren's do not provide a way to file private lawsuits against spammers. Consumer advocates and lawyers say the spam-fighting problem is caused not by the public failing to report spam but by law enforcement failing to act. Lofgren argues that the bounty would help prosecutors identify the most offensive spammers without expending many resources.

Antispam advocates praise another proposal by senator Charles Schumer (Democrat-New York), who wants to create a national no-spam list similar to Do Not Call lists used to discourage telemarketing. Schumer's approach would also enable private suits or law enforcement actions against spammers.

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