Joined by frustrated New Yorkers , Schumer announces new law that would for the first time impose tough criminal and civil penalties on spammers
New law would also create no-spam registry like highly-effective do-not-call registries have stopped telemarketers
Senator will demonstrate how much unsolicited spam comes in a single day
US Senator Charles E. Schumer today released a new study finding New York City residents receive 8.25 million junk emails a day and spend 4.2 million hours a year eliminating spam messages. Schumer also unveiled comprehensive legislation to combat spam – unwanted bulk emails often sent from a fake or misleading email address. For the first time, mass-emailers will be subject to tough criminal and civil penalties – including jail time for serious repeat offenders.
“Spam is not just a little nuisance, it’s an epidemic, and getting rid of it is not as simple as hitting the delete button. Spam costs New Yorkers millions of dollars per year and hurts businesses large and small,” Schumer said. “As more and more communication is done through email, the cost of spam is only going to grow and grow. My plan blocks spam at the source and for the first time imposes serious penalties for the people and companies that send it.”
Email spam is any form of unsolicited email that users receive from commercial sources. Among the most common forms of spam are advertisements for online gambling services, pornography, herbal remedies or financial schemes, many of which are fraudulent in nature.
According to the Radicati Group, a California‑based market research group, 5.7 million people in New York State – 30% of the population – have access to email either through their home or workplace. This includes 2.75 million in New York City. In New York City, 1.51 million of these email accounts are business-related and 1.24 million are for personal use.
The population of email users – and spam-receivers – in New York City is almost as large as the entire population of Chicago, the third‑largest city in the United States.
According to Ferris Research, the average email user received 3 pieces of spam email each day in 2002, meaning that email users in New York City received 8.25 million junk emails each day or over 3 billion per year. Assuming it takes five seconds to identify and delete each piece of spam, New Yorkers spend 4.2 million hours ridding themselves of junk mail each year.
Jupiter Research estimates that the average email user received 40 spam messages in all of 1999. That number will grow to 1,600 in 2005 if no significant changes are made.
Schumer said that because much if not most spam is overtly sexual in nature, many parents – including he and his wife – feel it is particularly important to find a way to block spam in their children’s email accounts. Under Schumer’s plan, parents will be able to register their children’s email addresses to make sure they no longer receive inappropriate solicitations
“I have two daughters – including one still in junior high school – who use email every day for school and to talk to their friends. Some of the unsolicited messages they get are selling products or services that are appalling and utterly inappropriate for young women their age, and like most parents I want to protect them from this,” Schumer said.
Schumer was joined today by two New Yorkers: Jack Mitchell, who is a teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens and Mona Bergman, a retiree from Brooklyn Heights who has repeatedly sought help from her internet service provider to deal with spam with no results.
The new Schumer legislation will fight spam by:
- Establishing New No-Spam Registries: The Federal Trade Commission and many states including New York have created no-call registries that prevent telemarketers from calling individuals who do not wish to be contacted. The FTC expects the no-call registry to reduce unwanted telemarketing calls by 80% and New York’s registry already has 2 million people listed. Under Schumer’s new law, the FTC will establish a “no-spam” list available in its website so people can register their email addresses. Commercial emailers will be required to check the list before they send mass-email. The FTC will take appropriate measures to safeguard the security of this list so computer hackers cannot access it.
- Requiring Mandatory Subject Line Identification: Many email users do not realize they have received spam until they have wasted valuable time opening and reading it. Despite the best efforts of programmers working for email providers to develop effective junk-email filters, many messages still get through. The Schumer legislation will require all commercial mass-emails and advertisements to have the letters “ADV” in the subject line indicating that it contains a message with commercial content.
- Requiring Full Disclosure in Email Headers and Addresses: Many spammers deliberately use counterfeit addresses, fraudulent domain names, and fake routing information to hide the source of the email. For instance, many spammers send emails that appear to be from America Online accounts but are from entirely different systems. Other spammers use misleading subject lines in their emails to trick readers into opening them. The Schumer legislation will require subject lines and headers to accurately reflect both the source and content of the email message.
- Providing Real “Unsubscribe” Mechanisms and Enforcing Usage: The Schumer legislation would require commercial emailers to provide an “unsubscribe” feature so recipients can opt out of receiving future messages. While some reputable commercial emailers already do this, many spammers trick recipients by providing what appear to be “unsubscribe” options that in fact put you on lists for new spam. The Schumer legislation would prohibit this and impose penalties for such deception.
- Banning Automated Email Address Harvesting: Internet users make themselves vulnerable to spam by exposing their email address to online marketers through web sites, news groups, chat rooms, mailing lists and other public sources. Spammers use software called “spam bots” to harvest email addresses from these public areas. These programs automatically “crawl” the web and locate and record these harvested email addresses into a database to be used for mass junk mailings. Internet users may also unwittingly make their email address available to spammers by signing up for online services or mailings on certain sites which in turn sell their email databases to spammers. The new Schumer legislation bans this automated harvesting. These provisions of the new Schumer legislation are modeled on the successful federal legislation that has virtually eliminated unsolicited auto-dial mass faxes that once plagued homes and businesses.
- Imposing Stiff Penalties for Non-Compliance: In order to make spammers comply with the new rules, the new Schumer legislation will enact stiff civil and criminal penalties even prison time for severe repeat offenders. Specifically, the Schumer legislation proposes criminal penalties up to two years in prison and fines to be determined by the sentencing judge. The Schumer legislation will also give state attorneys general, the FTC, and internet service providers the right to seek civil penalties against spammers for the amount of damages caused by the spam and penalties of $5,000.
- · Providing Funds to Establish Registry and for Enforcement: The Schumer legislation will authorize appropriations of $75 million for the establishment and maintenance of the registry as well as the related FTC enforcement activities beyond those already funded. The Schumer legislation will also direct all penalties won in suits against spammers brought by the FTC will go to future enforcement activities.
The only current federal restrictions on email spam are the general criminal and civil fraud prohibitions. The FTC currently works with law enforcement to combat fraudulent email scams, but the vast majority of spam does not fit the legal definition for fraud and is therefore beyond current law. Given federal, state, and local law enforcement’s focus on preventing terrorism and their limited resources, they simply cannot meet keep up with spam.
Email spam is prolific because it is cheap compared to other forms of direct marketing. Spammers can buy lists of millions of email addresses for a few hundred dollars. It costs next to nothing to send hundreds of thousands of email solicitations to those addresses.
“Legitimate companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this legislation,” Schumer said. “Right now people delete the legitimate commercial email that comes along with the spam – by eliminating the spam they will have the time to pay attention to the messages that were sent only to them. These are simple ways to put the brakes on email spam. People can go to a secure government website, enter their email address and watch their flow of spam slow to a trickle and hopefully stop altogether.”