FTC Chief Downplays ‘Ineffective’ US Anti-Spam Bills

21 August 2003

Federal Trade Commission chairman Timothy J Muris has dismissed the various proposals to combat spam emails as “largely ineffective”.

‘Junk’ email has become a major issue in the US, with marketers, consumer groups and internet firms all suggesting ways it can be curbed. However, Muris believes the anti-spam bills currently under consideration by Congress have failed to propose workable solutions.

“Unfortunately, the legislative debate seems to be veering off on the wrong track,” he told a conference in Colorado. Spam, he added, is one of the toughest challenges ever to confront the FTC – so tough, in fact, that “it is not apparent … any regulatory solution exists.”

One proposal is to create a do-not-email register similar to the national do-not-call telemarketing list the FTC launched over the summer.

But Muris believes this could not be enforced, as the spammers that cause most offence conceal their identities. “If it [a register] were established,” he commented helpfully, “my advice to consumers would be: don't waste the time and effort to sign up.”

The FTC boss also refused to back an ‘opt-in’ approach, whereby consumers could only be sent commercial email if they requested it. Such a scheme is favoured by zealous anti-spammers but opposed by marketing firms and web providers.

The latter groups prefer an ‘opt-out’ approach – a feature of some of the bills in Congress. But Muris believes the language of the legislation would make it difficult to enforce – specifically, the FTC would face a “serious hurdle” in having to prove that companies using external email marketers knew consumers were being contacted against their wishes.

Data sourced from: Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff