The Testimony of Patrick F. Riley, SIMS, ’05.  US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation,  S.563 “Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights” Hearing, Thursday, August 28, 2003.

 

Distinguished members of the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, I wish to thank your for holding this initial hearing on S.563, The “Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights,” and for having me speak to you today.  I am here in support of S.563 and feel that it is a promising start of federal legislation aimed at reducing the barrage of unsolicited and fraudulent email we call “Spam.”  As a life-long technologist, I remember when I received the now infamous “Green Card” email, the first spam of the Internet age, and never imagined that only a few years later, 40%[1] of all email traffic worldwide would be spam, or that unsolicited email would cost businesses $10 billion a year in loss of productivity, wasted bandwidth and administrative maintenance costs.

As I speak to you today, roughly half a dozen countries and twenty U.S. states have passed various anti-spam laws.  Currently, no federal bill dealing with spam has passed more than a single house of Congress, and so we all continue to collect spam.  A provision (page 7, Sec.5) of The “Computer Owners’ Bill of Rights” will have the FTC establish a “Do Not Spam” registry, similar to the "Do Not Call" Provision of the Telemarketing Sales Rule[2], which received great popularity among American households this spring.

Those in support of spam will argue that email is an entirely different medium than telemarketing, but more like the legal postal service distribution process.  Also, unlike telemarketing, there are some who will defy this “Do Not Spam” list, and possibly even use it as their email database.  In response to this argument, it should be noted that unlike telemarketing and unsolicited postal advertising, the majority of the expense of advertising via spam is paid by corporations and individuals in loss of productivity, bandwidth, and extra technology expenses to remove spam.  It costs an advertiser to place a call or send a postal advertisement, but the cost of sending millions of spam ads is virtually nil.  The possibility that this registry list will be capitalized on and abused by illicit spamming advertisers is a valid concern, but also one that can be managed with an amendment to this bill, as I will mention later in this testimony.

In order for this FTC regulation to be effective, however, there are many inadequacies in S.563 that need some refining.  Firstly, S.563 uses a rather loose definition of “spam”.  In addition to the other studies that S.563 initiates, a study to better answer and define the fundamental question of what is legitimate and unsolicited spam needs to be made.  In an FTC study, 44% of their collected email came from phony addresses[3].  It is paramount that this bill includes an additional punishment for those who try to hide their identity, or provide no functioning “opt-out” procedure.  By imposing a fine of an additional $20,000 on those who attempt to hide their identity through relaying email servers or those using the “Do Not Spam” registry to spam, the risk of fiduciary and legal troubles would outweigh the potential benefits to illicit spammers.  Lastly, although poor technical support in the computing industry (as focused on in S.563) is another problem which should be addressed by Congress, it is not related to the problems of unsolicited spam email, and makes it less likely that this S.563 will survive a Senate vote.  These provisions related to technical support of the computing industry should be suggested as a separate bill.

Considering that these amendments to S.563 are made, I enthusiastically recommend that this committee sends S.563 to the Senate floor for a vote. 

 



[1] Why Some Big Spammers Are Backing Spam-Control Laws, Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2003.

[2] "Do-Not-Call" Provision of the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 64 Fed. Reg. 66124-66126 (November 24, 1999).

[3] Slamming Spam, BusinessWeek, May 12, 2003.