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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Fact Sheet: Anti-Spam Law

Tim Muris
December 16, 2003

Tim Muris
Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here again. The FTC is the one federal agency whose mission is to protect consumers across wide range of activities. Spam is a very important, and difficult issue, and I am glad to discuss it with you this morning.

Greg, from Indiana writes:
Thanks for taking my question. Does this bill cover foreign SPAM? If not, what is being done to stop the SPAM that is coming in from other countries to the computers in the United States? Thanks.

Tim Muris
The short answer is yes; the bill covers spam into the U.S. from whatever its source. Of course, there can be difficulties in prosecuting people from outside the U.S. and I'm sure we will discuss more of the enforcement issues this morning.

Michael, from Franklin NC writes:
What specifically does the CAN-SPAM act do to protect minors, that have email accounts, from receiving pornographic junk email?

Tim Muris
The bill prohibits sexually explicit material that is in the body in the message. The bill also requires that any sexually explicit spam have a label identifying it in the subject line so that consumers can filter out these messages.

The bill requires the FTC to develop this label within four months.

Frank, from Queens writes:
How will this bill help eliminate spam?

Tim Muris
There is no magic bullet to stop spam. The solution will require technology, self-help, and enforcement. This legislation provides additional help for law enforcers such as the FTC. We have already brought dozens of cases involving deceptive spam, and have many additional investigations under way. We are also working with agencies that have criminal enforcement authority. The CAN-SPAM Act provides clearer criminal authority against spam, and gives the FTC additional tools to fight spam.

Tom, from Miami writes:
Why is spam such a problem?

Tim Muris
There are two facts that make stopping spam a difficult consumer protection challenge. First, because of the anonymity of the Internet, spammers are very difficult to find. The only sure way to find them is to follow the money path from the consumers to the sellers and then to the spammer. Unfortunately, this task often is long and complex. We may have to issue as many as two dozen subpoenas to have a chance at success.

The second fact that makes spam such a difficult problem is that the cost of sending additional spam is essentially zero. If a business makes an additional 10,000 phone calls or mails an additional 10,000 letters, it costs that business real money. Unfortunately, the same is not true for sending an additional 10,000 spam. Thus, spammers can be profitable even if their response rates are extraordinarily low.

The combination of these two facts is primarily responsible for my statement that any solution of the spam problem will require several approaches.

Brian, from NY writes:
Will a do-not-spam list do anything to help the problem?

Tim Muris
The statute that the President just signed requires the FTC to develop a plan and timetable for a do-not-spam registry by next June. The law authorizes but does not require us to implement a do-not-spam registry. We will do an in depth study of whether such a registry is technologically feasible, whether it will be effective, and how much it would cost.

I have previously expressed reservations about the registry because our studies have shown that almost all spammers are already violating various laws. As you know, the FTC develops and is now enforcing, along with the FCC and the states, the national do-not-call registry. Most telemarketers are legitimate businesses. Because most spammers are not legitimate, the attractiveness of a do-not-spam registry is in doubt. We will perform an objective study to see if the difficulties of a registry can be overcome so that consumers would benefit.

Peter, from Newton, MA writes:
Do you forsee a labeling requirement that would require ADV labels in the Subject line on every commercial email that is not covered under the affirmative consent provision?

Do you feel this will help stem the tide of spam?

Tim Muris
The CAN-SPAM Act requires the FTC to report to Congress within 18 months on the feasibility of requiring an ADV (advertisement) label in the subject line in all unsolicited commercial email. Unfortunately, we have previously studied this issue, finding that only two percent of spam currently carries an ADV label, despite the fact that numerous state laws, including California's, require the label.

Ross, from Glasgow, Scotland writes:
Why are the United States going for opt out laws, rather than the British and Europe, who are going for opt in laws.

Tim Muris
For spammers who are already violating various laws, the issue of choice is largely moot. Such spammers are not likely to comply with any requirement of choice.

For legitimate spammers, if that term is not an oxymoron, an opt-out rule has real promise, as long as the opt-out is easy to use.

The statute appears to have good requirements regarding opt-out, and it gives the FTC rulemaking authority over this issue.

Randee, from Illinois writes:
How big a problem is "phishing"

Tim Muris
Phishing is when a consumer receives an email that appears to be from a well-known company. It says you have a problem with your account or credit card and asks you to verify that personal information. This information in the hands of a fraudster, could result in identity theft.

We have brought two phishing cases, and have several others under investigation. Phishing is outright theft, and we are working with criminal authorities to prosecute phishers.

Tim Muris
As this session reveals, spam is a daunting challenge. We are devoting more and more resources to finding and stopping spammers. The CAN-SPAM Act provides us another useful tool in the fight against fraudulent and deceptive spam. Thanks for your questions today.

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