DMA urges Congress to increase support for CAN-SPAM

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Greater enforcement of the federal CAN-SPAM law is needed to continue to reduce the volume of spam, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

The DMA this week urged Congress to expand its support of the Federal Trade Commission’s CAN-SPAM initiative by allocating additional federal funds. "The CAN-SPAM Act is working. There’s less spam, but there is still too much, so it still has a negative effect on legitimate e-mail marketers," said Jerry Cerasale, senior VP-government affairs at the DMA. "If we have greater enforcement, we can go after [offenders] even harder."

Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Email Service Provider Coalition, echoed the DMA’s call for additional funding. "We’ve been saying for over two and a half years that in order to achieve the deterrent effect, we need more enforcement. CAN-SPAM is a paper tiger without enforcement," Hughes said.

Josh Carlson, VP-technology at the Insurance Journal, a marketer that sends out e-mail newsletters, said the DMA’s effort is a good sign but that he doubts more support on the legislative side will produce significant dividends. "I think technology is the more effective means [for stopping spam] than legislation," he said. "With technology, you can potentially eliminate spam. With legislation, there are too many loopholes because of international law."

The CAN-SPAM Act has been in effect since January 2004. While several high-profile lawsuits have been filed against spammers in the last year—most notably those filed by the Anti-Spam Alliance, formed by AOL, EarthLink, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo!—spam continues to affect legitimate, permission-based e-mail marketing.

The Federal Trade Commission continues to work on enforcement but, "It’s difficult to get lots of dollars," Cerasale said. "We’d like to see the FTC have more resources for it."

One idea is to roll fines levied against spammers back to the FTC so it can use the money to battle spam. Right now, Cerasale said, the fines the FTC collects from spammers go straight to the U.S. Treasury.

"The FTC has said, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be good to use the proceeds of the fine to put towards more enforcement?’ " Cerasale said. "We think that should be seriously considered."

The DMA currently provides funding to the National Cyber-Forensic Training Alliance, which tackles spam alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the DMA says greater cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector is necessary to combat spam.

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