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Fact Sheet: President Bush Signs Anti-Spam Law

December 16, 2003

On December 16, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM Act), which establishes a framework of administrative, civil, and criminal tools to help America's consumers, businesses, and families combat unsolicited commercial e-mail, known as spam.

The new law is a pro-consumer measure that allows consumers to choose to stop further unsolicited spam from a sender. It also provides a protection against spam containing unmarked sexually-oriented or pornographic material.

Background on Today's Presidential Action

  • Spam is a problem for Americans. E-mail is an extremely important and effective means of communications and is used by millions of Americans on a daily basis for personal and commercial purposes. Its convenience and efficiency, however, are increasingly threatened by the rise in spam. Spam currently accounts for over half of all e-mail traffic. Today, most spam is fraudulent or deceptive in nature. The growth in spam also imposes significant costs on Internet Service Providers (ISPs), businesses, and other organizations, since they can only handle a finite volume of e-mail without making further investments in their infrastructure.
  • The law provides a well-balanced approach that will help to address some of the harmful impacts of spam. The problems associated with spam cannot be solved by Federal legislation alone, but will require the development and adoption of new technologies. Nonetheless, the law will help address the problems associated with the rapid growth and abuse of spam. The new law establishes important "rules of the road" for civil enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), other Federal agencies, State attorneys general, and ISPs to help curb spam. It also creates new criminal penalties to assist in deterring the most offensive forms of spam, including unmarked sexually-oriented messages and e-mails containing fraudulent headers. At the same time, the law caps statutory damages for civil violations in most cases. The law also provides greater certainty in interstate commerce for businesses that would otherwise face a wide diversity of state laws on spam.
  • The law builds upon the Administration's efforts to empower consumers with choices in the technology field. Under the law, consumers are provided with a choice not to receive any further unsolicited messages from a sender. Senders that do not honor a consumer's request are subject to civil penalties.
  • The law strengthens a cornerstone of the Administration's agenda to help protect children against pornography. The law makes spam containing unmarked sexually-oriented material a criminal offense. The labeling requirement gives parents a tool to protect their children from such messages. Under the law, senders of e-mail are required to place warning labels on messages containing sexually-oriented or pornographic material. If they knowingly violate this requirement, spammers are subject to fines or imprisonment.
  • The Administration supports the law's tools to help deter the harmful effects of deceptive and misleading spam. The law establishes both civil and criminal prohibitions to deter spammers from using false or misleading identification, and imposes penalties against spammers for these violations.

George W. Bush, Fact Sheet: President Bush Signs Anti-Spam Law Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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