E-mail ‘Spam’ Becomes a Federal Crime


Sending out unwanted marketing E-mails is now a federal
crime after President Bush signed on Dec. 16 legislation
that put limits on unsolicited commercial E-mail, also
referred to as “spam.” The new law also authorizes the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a “do-
not-spam” list similar to the “do-not-call” list against

While many of the unwanted E-mails come from what some
would call “shady” marketers pressing the “send all”
function on their computer, there may be others who are
unaware they may be committing marketing harassment –
including some in the electronic security industry.

Rick Ostopowicz, communications manager for the National
Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), has to wade
through several spam messages daily. He says security
companies and contractors need to be aware of the new law
and take steps to avoid stepping over the E-mail line.

“The biggest step you have to take when sending useful
information is you have to be responsive to those who don’t
want to receive it,” says Ostopowicz, who has had to be
careful himself when sending out the NBFAA’s E-mail
newsletter. “I’ve had several members say it’s not that I
don’t want to get the information, I just don’t want to get
it in my E-mail.”
The measure, dubbed the “Can Spam Act,” was passed by
Congress in early December and, among other provisions,
makes it illegal to have a false return E-mail address and
requires unsolicited e-mails to include a mechanism so
recipients could indicate they did not want future mass

The new law supercedes previous anti-spam laws passed by
the states, including the more stringent laws in California
where recipients were authorized to sue the senders of spam
E-mails. However, not only does the federal law set up
a “do-not-spam” list but it also has a five-year prison
sentence for serious violators. “Our association supports
the legal means of marketing for our members, but this
nuisance style of E-mail is a problem for everyone,”
Ostopowicz says.

One of those dealing with unwanted E-mails is Greg Gilbert,
marketing manager with Security Information Systems Inc.
(SIS). He says his company has always kept a list of
customers willing to receive their marketing E-mail and
usually sends out only one or two of those E-mails a
year. “We don’t spam anybody,” Gilbert says. “I hate spam.
Everybody hates spam.”

Still, Gilbert questions how effective the law will be,
saying spammers will be tougher to control than
telemarketers. “They’re not as organized as telemarketing.
All you need is a computer and a list,” Gilbert says. “It’s
more of a rogue industry. It’s going to be tough to enforce

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