Unwanted e-mails targeted by state prosecutor

Thursday, November 28, 2002

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Computer users in Missouri could put a stop to e-mails pitching quack medical cures, linking them to pornography or just trying to get them to sign up for a new credit card.

As a follow up to the popular "no-call" list, which keeps Missourians from receiving unwanted telemarketer phone calls, Attorney General Jay Nixon and two legislators detailed plans in St. Louis Wednesday to create a "no-spam" list, where people and companies could sign up to block unsolicited commercial e-mail.

If Missouri passes the draft legislation, it could be the first state to have a "no-spam" list. "I think we're on the cutting edge here," Nixon said.

He outlined a plan similar to the "no-call" list already in existence. Individuals or companies sign up on a list saying they don't want spam; that's unsolicited commercial e-mail. From there, businesses which market over the Internet through e-mail would be legally required to pay for the information; they'd have to stop sending their e-mail to those on the list, and they would be fined for any violations.

Nixon said he won't ask the Legislature for a penny to fund the service.

State Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis, and state Rep. Charles Bearden, R-St. Charles, spoke in favor of the list Wednesday. They, along with state Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, plan to push the proposal when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Goode said he became interested in the idea after he heard from a University City resident who received as many as 71 commercial e-mails a day, selling everything from ways to achieve a perfect tan to correcting seizure disorders. He said spam also affects businesses when they have to devote resources to the problem.

"People are getting bothered," he said. "They're having time taken away from them, and it's costing them money."

Nixon said he didn't want to predict how many people would sign up for the service. He joked that was because he had dramatically underestimated the popularity of the "no-call" service. Nixon initially thought 200,000 people might sign up to block telemarketer calls. To date, the list includes about 1.1 million residential numbers, representing about 2.7 million people. Nixon said it has cut phone fraud by about 50 percent in the state.

John Mozena, co-founder of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, said the organization appreciated the intent behind a no-spam list, but didn't actually support the idea as a good solution to the problem of spam.

The telephone system and the Internet are set up differently, he explained.

"It would be virtually impossible to list all the e-mail addresses that people might want to have protected," he said. "E-mails are not centrally regulated like phone numbers and can be built in any number of ways."

Speaking from Detroit, he said the Internet-based coalition, which consists entirely of volunteers and has about 40,000 members, would like to see federal legislation that would simply amend laws already in place to block unsolicited faxes.

Bearden said that idea had been looked at on a state level. He said the drawback was that it would create blanket coverage against spam, unlike the "no-spam" list, where those who wished to receive the e-mails would still get them.

Bearden acknowledged that under the new plan, people would have to register each individual e-mail address they wanted to block from unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: