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Hatch, Leahy team up with plan to fight spam

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee is infamous for its bitter fights over court nominees. But members found an issue so deeply heartfelt Thursday that it united them in a clarion call for tough-as-nails action: e-mail spam.


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Web sites:

Senate bill 1293

Hatch statement on "Criminal Spam Act of 2003"

Google directory of spam


Related sites:

National Do Not Call Registry

Members from both parties waxed poetic about how much they hate it — even to the point of suggesting creation of a federal "do-not-spam" registry, not unlike the "do-not-call" telemarketing list.

The committee members passed —19-0, no less — a bill written by the odd couple of Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the panel's ranking Democrat.

"Rarely a minute passes without American consumers and their children being bombarded with e-mail messages promoting pornographic Web sites, illegally pirated software, bogus charities, pyramid schemes and other get-rich-quick … scams," Hatch said.

Leahy noted that he won't let his grandson use the computer without watching him for fear of pornographic spam. He said any e-mail address seems to attract it quickly. "The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) found spam arriving at its computer system just nine minutes after posting an e-mail address in an online chat room," he said.

Their bill would outlaw any unsolicited e-mail that uses deceptive "subject lines" or disguises its true sender. It also outlaws sending viruses, worms, Trojan horses or other types of hidden and damaging codes.

It also outlaws usurping other computer systems to send mass spam. Hatch noted, "By year's end, it is estimated that 50 percent of all e-mail traffic will be spam."

Offending spammers could be sentenced from one to five years in prison, depending on the violation and whether it is a repeat offense. Also, they may be ordered to forfeit any profits and computer equipment used in the crimes. Offenders could also be sued privately for damages.

Committee members said they only wish the bill went further. For example, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. — after saying how much he hates spam — said he would like to create a "do-not-spam" list of computer users who sign up to stop unsolicited e-mail.

He said he hopes to work with Hatch and Leahy to possibly add that to their bill as an amendment when the full Senate debates it. Several members nodded or added verbal calls for that.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also said she hopes the Senate could even go a step further and somehow soon attack Web sites and peer-to-peer systems that give pornographic or other unwanted information to children and others who search for such innocuous terms as "Pokemon" and "Harry Potter."

Hatch said he also wants to do more in that area and hopes to work with Leahy and Democrats on it. Leahy said he does too, "and I bet a vast majority of both parties will vote for it."