US state gets tougher on spam

US states are raising the price of sending spam, while the New Zealand government - having a hard time even declaring hacking illegal - has not even considered putting spam under the law yet.

US states are raising the price of sending spam, while the New Zealand government – having a hard time even declaring hacking illegal -- has not even considered putting spam under the law yet.

At the beginning of this month the state of Ohio's Governor Bob Taft signed into law the Ohio Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Republican state senator Ron Amstutz.

The law allows recipients of unsolicited commercial email to sue the originator at $US100 per mail, up to a maximum of $US50,000, plus legal and other expenses. The bill is likely to go into effect on October 31.

It absolves ISPs and email processors from any penalty for simply passing the mail on unknowingly. It also absolves the sender from responsibility if they can point to a “pre-existing business relationship” with the recipient, or if the recipient’s name and email address has been placed on a website as an “opt-in” request, even though a third party may have placed it there.

Such a limited opt-in condition raised controversy in New Zealand last year, when it was included in the NZ Direct Marketing Association’s voluntary code of practice. Some spam opponents said “double opt-in” should have been adopted; a procedure whereby the person whose address is volunteered is asked to confirm that they wish to receive commercial email from the sender before any is sent (see DMA, anti-spammers in spat).

DMA chairman Keith Norris said at the time that association investigations had failed to show third-party submission of addresses was a significant enough problem to justify double opt-in.

The Ohio bill raises the cost of violating anti-spam laws. When the State of Illinois passed its anti-spam law in 1999, it provided for a fine of $US10 per instance, up to a total of $US25,000 per day, for spammers who continued to send spam after receiving a desist request. That law went into effect on January 1, 2000 (see www.spamlaws.com).

Internet pioneer Paul Vixie has suggested a cleaner method of making spam uneconomical would be for governments or ISPs to levy a micropayment for each email sent (see Paul Vixie: Open source the only way forward). This would not be a significant expense for the ordinary user, but would deter spammers, who send large numbers of messages.

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