Lawmakers get creative to fight unwanted e-mail

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

Legislation from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) allowing racketeering charges against spammers would enable authorities to seize the spammers’ assets and let private citizens file lawsuits against them. Meanwhile, Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s bill would give the first person who reports an illegal spammer a bounty of 20 percent of the fine the U.S. Federal Trade Commission eventually imposes, creating the potential for fines of US$100,000 and rewards of $20,000 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 Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), 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.