Features

California dreaming?

National

Issue: "Beyond the nightly news," Oct. 11, 2003

CAN NEW LAWS KEEP SPAMMERS from driving people nuts with junk mail? California will find out next year, when strict penalties for unsolicited ads take effect.

Backers call it a no-loophole approach. The measure penalizes both advertisers and the spammers they hire to pitch their wares. California users and Internet service providers can sue if they receive messages with misleading subject lines, bogus e-mail addresses, and other tricks to disguise the original sender. Civil judgments are capped at $1,000 per message or $1 million per incident.

Massive public outcry has provoked politicians to push such bills. Virginia enacted the strictest of these laws; it threatens spammers with prison sentences and asset forfeiture. Congress is also considering anti-spam measures. Even the European Union is on the bandwagon, demanding that member states act against junk e-mail by Oct. 31.

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But all these restrictions face a huge obstacle: jurisdiction. California isn't likely to extradite out-of-state spammers to face a civil action, and fighting junk mailers from overseas is virtually impossible. China, for example, is notorious as a launching pad for mailbox blasters.

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