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E-mail law won't abolish spam

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- The new state law governing unsolicited commercial e-mail, which went into effect Saturday, won't necessarily get rid of all that junk e-mail, better known as "spam."

The law merely requires the sender to properly label a lot of the annoying e-mail as advertising with a big "ADV" in the message's subject line, which would make it easier to spot and delete before opening it.

Pornographic spam would have to be labeled "ADV-ADULT," and spammers would have to set up toll-free phone numbers or useable reply e-mail addresses for people to tell them to take them off their marketing list.

Bil MacLeslie, general manager of VISI.com, an Internet service provider, compared it to setting up a telemarketing law that allowed telemarketers to call as long as they identified themselves as telemarketers. "Well, what's the point of enacting the law then?" he asked.

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Internet service providers dislike spam because it eats up resources on their networks and their customers' computers without paying for them. They liken it to conventional direct marketers somehow getting the public or the Postal Service to pay the postage for all the postcard and paper-envelope junk mail that cram most American mailboxes.

Spam makes up from 40 percent to 70 percent of all e-mail traffic, up from only 10 percent less than three years ago, and threatens to overwhelm the Internet, anti-spam advocates argue.

America Online zaps 22 to 25 pieces of spam every second on its network before they can hit AOL users' inboxes, and it's still losing the battle, said Laura Atkins, president of the San Francisco-based SpamCon Foundation.

Twenty-six states have enacted laws to try to corral junk e-mail, but repeated efforts to enact a national anti-spam law have failed, said John Mozena, spokesman for CAUCE, or Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, one of the country's major grassroots efforts trying to stem the tide of spam.

The chief author of Minnesota's spam law, Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said Friday he didn't have any illusions that his bill would reduce the amount of spam people receive.

Free speech makes it difficult, if not impossible, to outlaw spam, so the next best thing is making it obvious to users and allow them to set up filters that would instantly delete e-mail with the "ADV" or "ADV-ADULT" warnings.

The law also gives e-mail users and their ISPs the right to sue spammers in court and collect $10 to $25 per illegal message or $25,000 to $35,000 a day, depending on the part of the statute that is violated.

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