'Spam': An Overview of Issues Concerning Commercial Electronic Mail [Updated September 16, 2004]   [open pdf - 115KB]

"Spam, also called unsolicited commercial email (UCE) or 'junk email,' aggravates many computer users. Not only can spam be a nuisance, but its cost may be passed on to consumers through higher charges from Internet service providers who must upgrade their systems to handle the traffic. Also, some spam involves fraud, or includes adult-oriented material that offends recipients or that parents want to protect their children from seeing. Proponents of UCE insist it is a legitimate marketing technique that is protected by the First Amendment, and that some consumers want to receive such solicitations. On December 16, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, P.L. 108-187. It went into effect on January 1, 2004. The CAN-SPAM Act does not ban UCE. Rather, it allows marketers to send commercial email as long as it conforms with the law, such as including a legitimate opportunity for consumers to 'opt-out' of receiving future commercial emails from that sender...Proponents of the law argue that consumers are most irritated by fraudulent email, and that the law should reduce the volume of such email because of the civil and criminal penalties included therein. Opponents counter that consumers object to unsolicited commercial email, and since the law legitimizes commercial email (as long as it conforms with the law's provisions), consumers actually may receive more, not fewer, UCE messages. Thus, whether or not 'spam' is reduced depends in part on whether it is defined as only fraudulent commercial email, or all unsolicited commercial email."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL31953
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