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FTC report: CAN-SPAM is effective

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Almost two years after the implementation of CAN-SPAM, the Federal Trade Commission this week concluded that the legislation is effective in providing protection for e-mail users and that it is being enforced aggressively by state and federal law enforcers and the private sector.

The report, “Effectiveness and Enforcement of the CAN-SPAM Act,” was issued to Congress. In it, the FTC said technological anti-spam advances have reduced the amount of spam reaching consumers’ in-boxes and that rigorous law enforcement has been a deterrent to spammers. The law, when enacted, stipulated that the FTC needed to issue a report to Congress this month outlining the effectiveness of CAN-SPAM.

The FTC said it has so far filed 21 cases under CAN-SPAM and another 62 cases targeting spam before the enactment of the law.

“We’re using technology and teamwork in the battle against illegal spam,” said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “Taken together, they are helping us combat the outlaw spammers who disregard laws designed to prevent fraud and protect consumers’ rights.”

Yet some in the industry feel the FTC has not been aggressive enough.

“It’s a paltry number of suits,” said Reggie Brady, president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions. “Not enough has happened on the state level to go after the bad guys.” She said she has heard first-hand from one of the people responsible for the FBI’s Slam Spam program that their actions are somewhat limited.

The FBI kicked off the Slam Spam program last year to combat spam.

“They [the FBI] said all they could do was uncover a particular problem and then pass it on to the state,” Brady said. “They can do some things in terms of fraud, but if it’s really spam-related, they can’t do much.”

In addition to its analysis of effectiveness and enforcement, the FTC report recommends three things that could improve the law’s efficacy.

First, the FTC said, Congress should enact the U.S. Safe Web Act, which would improve the agency’s ability to trace spammers that operate outside the U.S.

Second, education efforts should continue in order to teach e-mail users how to protect themselves from spam, spyware and sexually explicit material.

Third, continued improvement of anti-spam technology is necessary, the FTC said, particularly the tools that prevent spammers from operating anonymously.

Brady said the report is encouraging in that legislators are looking at the issue. However, she said, the industry’s efforts have not stopped spammers to date. “Has it deterred spammers? No,” Brady said. “The only thing that is happening is that they are being caught in the filters by the ISPs, but they are so nefarious that they keep finding ways to get around filters.”

Industry organizations including American Business Media and the Direct Marketing Association weighed in on the report’s findings.

The DMA released a statement saying it is encouraged by the FTC report and congratulating various stakeholders—legitimate e-mail marketers, ISPs and others—on their efforts in the war on spam. The DMA said it will continue to work with the FTC to combat the problem.

The DMA estimates that legitimate commercial e-mail resulted in approximately $39 billion in sales in 2004, including about $9 billion in small-business sales.

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