Will spam be totally canned?

Congratulations. Today is the first day of the rest of your life without spam. Well, maybe.

The antispam law that President Bush signed a couple weeks ago is now official, but there are differing opinions about what that means for you and me.

Before getting to that, let's start with what we all agree on.

For most of us, the daily onslaught of e-mail come-ons both laughable and lewd is even less welcome than those charming folks who used to call during dinner to pitch time-shares in Aruba.

The CAN-SPAM Act, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, basically establishes guidelines for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to thwart those unwanted e-mails.

Specifically, the new law promises to: prohibit fake or misleading e-mail headers; require an "opt-out" button to block future mailings; demand that the subject line identify sexually explicit e-mails; forbid "harvesting" e-addresses in bulk from the Internet; and fine the most offensive spammers - or jail them for up to five years.

Now for those differing opinions.

Critics of the CAN-SPAM Act say it's not tough enough, as the law doesn't actually make it illegal to send spam. And although it introduces consistency among the 50 states, many are miffed that the federal law supercedes state laws, some of which are more stringent.

Other critics say that the types of people who send spam are not inclined to follow the law. Or they will evade the law by moving to an offshore location.

Still, many believe the CAN-SPAM Act is a positive first step.

"Something is better than nothing," says Sam Simon, chairman of the Telecommunications Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group.

Key, he adds, will be how and to what extent the law is enforced. "The administration, the FTC, and Congress must be committed to aggressive enforcement. If the worst fears about this law are realized, and instead of spam being reduced, it increases, there will be an even greater public outcry."

But policing the new law could be tricky. "No legislation alone will solve the spam problem," says Brian Huseman, a staff attorney for the FTC. "It's very difficult to apprehend spammers, and it's very resource-intensive for law enforcement officials to not only pinpoint spammers but also to build the case needed for punishing them."

But don't throw up your hands just yet. While this law alone may not stop spam in its tracks, a joint effort might make the hoped-for difference.

"There must be a combination of technology, such as antispam filters, education, working with ISPs[Internet service providers], as well as legislation," says Helen Roberts, chief operating officer of Responsys, a provider of outsourced e-mail marketing services in Palo Alto, Calif.

Individual consumers can also have an impact. Forwarding spam to their ISPs as well as to the FTC at uce@ftc.gov may help. The FTC is now obligated by law to chase down the worst offenders.

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