The US is close to a nationwide clampdown on unsolicited email after the House of Representatives approved an anti-spam bill.

Lawmakers passed the legislation by 392 votes to 5 over the weekend. The Senate has already approved a similar measure and is expected to agree to slight amendments made by the lower house -- meaning the final bill could be delivered to the White House before Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday.

Should it become law, the legislation would take precedence over any state measure. It would force commercial emailers to label messages clearly, provide a valid return address and include an 'opt-out' facility. Companies that continue to spam after an 'opt-out' request would face fines of $250 (€212; £147) per email, with a maximum penalty of $2m (stricter than the $100 and $1m under the Senate bill).

In addition, the bill gives the Federal Trade Commission powers to set up a US-wide 'do-not-spam' register similar to the 'do-not-call' telemarketing scheme launched this year -- though it does not require the regulator to do so.

The measure may also affect mobile phone marketers. The bill gives the Federal Communications Commission authority to insist that commercial text messages can be sent only to consumers who have already given their permission.

Despite misgivings about some of the details -- not least about a 'do-not-spam' list -- the Direct Marketing Association has thrown its weight behind the legislation. Trade bodies have been pushing for a nationwide scheme so that marketers do not have to contend with a variety of state laws [WAMN: 17-Nov-03].

"We don't agree with all of it, but we support it," declared Jerry Cerasale, senior vp of the DMA. "It has to be a national standard. We can't have a patchwork."

In particular, trade organisations have been lobbying for a measure that protects the rights of legitimate marketers to send unsolicited email. The bill largely achieves this -- to the chagrin of some consumer groups campaigning for an outright ban on unwanted messages.

"The problem today is not that there is too much unregulated spam," argued John Mozena, co-founder of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. "The problem is that there is too much spam in general."

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff