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Text of Rep Smith's bill BILL INTRODUCTION STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH MAY 21, 1997 BAN UNSOLICITED JUNK ELECTRONIC MAIL Today I am introducing the "Netizens Protection Act of 1997." My legislation is aimed at protecting the internet user from the unseemly practices of the junk e-mailer. The internet user, or "Netizen," is in a vulnerable position in this new medium and we in Congress can not stand by idly as law-abiding citizens have their privacy invaded on an almost regular basis. And no one should have to pay for any such intrusion. This is a bill that has moved, as Justin Newton of the Internet Service Providers' Consortium so succinctly stated, from the community to to the legislature, not one that was produced by the legislature and then forced upon the community. We are empowering the consumer and the individual to take action against an egregious breach of consumer and individual rights. As increasing numbers of Americans go on line and become passengers on the information superhighway, consumers' rights must not be eroded, abridged or mitigated along the way. The Internet -- and e-mail -- are becoming part of our everyday lives. And no one -- from the consumer to the small business who runs servers -- should be forced to pay for unsolicited advertisements. This is not a question of curbing speech. I believe in the First Amendment as much as anyone else. However, the idea of shifting the financial burden of speech to an unwilling audience is one that needs to be addressed. From the "netizen" who may incur costs in the form of charges spent online reading and disposing of the messages (there are still millions of internet users who pay in increments of time spent online) to users who assume the costs of both accessing and storing mail they did not want, consumers should not be unwilling, and paying, recipients. Furthermore, junk e-mailers occupy time and space on an Internet Service Provider's (ISP) servers and forces the ISP to make technical improvements. The costs of these improvements are passed on to the consumer -- you and me. In effect, the consumer is paying to have their privacy breached and invaded. And no one remains unaffected by these intrusions. The business owner or ISP with their own server often unwittingly distributes unsolicited advertisements by acting as an exploder site or mail relay site. Not only is this trespassing on another person's "property," but it is an outright theft of another person's resources. Even more disturbing is the fact that a large portion of the unsolicited junk e-mail comes in the form of fraudulent get rich quick schemes, unproven medical remedies, and other unsavory solicitations. Let me reiterate that my legislation is targeted at unsolicited commercial e-mail. The paths of communications between friends and acquaintances and businesses and their customers remains wide open. As a matter of fact, this legislation still offers the opportunity for legitimate direct marketers to do business. Certainly, the traditional avenues of direct marketing which do not shift the burden of cost to the recipient, such as postal mail, remain unchanged; and individuals will have the right to "opt-in" and be reached by legitimate direct marketers via e-mail. And let us not forget that we will still be exposed to electronic billboard and banner advertising on the Internet. My legislation will make unsolicited advertisements unlawful by amending the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 which banned unsolicited junk faxes. The banning of junk e-mails is a natural extention of existing law. Based on a Ninth Circuit Court decision in _Destination Ventures v. FCC_ (1995), there is "substantial" government interest in protecting consumers from having to bear the costs of third-party advertising. In addition, the court also held that advertisers have no right to turn consumers into a "captive audience" that is "incapable of declining to receive a message." I believe I have crafted a bill -- although it is just the beginning of a process which includes hearings and committee work -- that is acceptable to most parties involved. It allows people to "opt-in" and receive unsolicited advertisements if they give their consent, but it does not put the onus on the individual to stop the unsolicited advertisers as an "opt-out" plan would do. Today, at a press conference, Ray Everett, a representative of the pro-consumer group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, and Justin Newton, a representative from the pro-business Internet Service Providers' Consortium -- each coming at the issue from different sides -- both came to the same conclusion -- this legislation would be an effective way to put a stop to unsolicited advertisements. BACK to Emerging Laws Page
Text of Rep Smith's bill