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California Governor Davis Signs Anti-Spam Law

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Gail Hillebrand – 415-431-6747

Congress Considering Weaker Protections That Could Block Tougher State Laws

SACRAMENTO, CA – California Governor Gray Davis has signed into law new protections for consumers designed to help limit spam – unsolicited commercial emails. The protections offered by the new law extend to all consumers in California and apply to all businesses based in the state.
“Spam is more than just a nuisance or irritation,” said Gail Hillebrand, Senior Staff Attorney for Consumers Union’s West Coast Regional Office “Spam exposes kids to pornography, clogs email boxes, and cost businesses billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and other expenses. This new California law offers a model that should be adopted nationwide.”
The new law (SB 186) establishes two important levels of protection. First, it requires opt-in, that is, true consent, for unsolicited commercial email advertisements to persons with whom the sender does not have a prior or current business relationship. Second, it offers consumers opt-out protection to stop SPAM from businesses with which the consumers has a preexisting or current relationship. This allows the consumer to get off an email list of someone with whom the consumer has done business. Violators of the law will be subject to penalties of $1,000 per email, up to $1 million per incident. The new law can be enforced by the Attorney General or through a private lawsuit filed by consumers.
Spam has become ubiquitous. The August 2003 cover story of Consumer Reports reported that 35 million customers of a single Internet service provider, America Online, had been sent as many as 2.4 billion pieces of spam in a single day. This was a tripling just between February and April of 2003. That is more than six pieces of spam per subscriber each day. Spam volume throughout the internet has grown so much that it is about overtake that of legitimate email.
Congress has been considering a number of bills (S. 877, HR 2214) to address spam, but they offer far less protection than what is provided under the new California law. The bills in Congress provide only opt-out safeguards for consumers, include weak enforcement provisions, and would block states from enacting tougher laws.
“Congress should use the California law as a blueprint for national reform, not pass a weak statute that prevents states from enacting the protections consumers deserve,” said Hillebrand.
A free set of consumer tips on combating spam is available at www.consumerreports.org