Smeal cyberlaw expert slices spam legislation

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The rise of e-mail marketing is leading to a rise in legislative efforts to reduce the growing number of spam- or junk-e-mail.

A Penn State expert on cyberlaw and privacy issues cautions Congress to move slowly with the bills currently under review.

“Some of the antispam legislation is a bit of an overreaction and it can create more lawsuits than it would prevent,” said John Bagby, professor of business law in Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.

Bagby’s areas of expertise include cyberlaw, privacy issues, liability risk management, securities regulations, regulatory process and policy, and business organizations.

Congress, Bagby explains, has to walk a tight-rope between protecting consumers from unsolicited e-mails while also protecting the rights of legitimate marketing efforts by companies.

Spoiling promises.

“Anti-spam legislation that is written too broadly will likely throttle the business advantages that is the promise of the Internet,” said Bagby.

Bagby notes that two bills have recently emerged from House committees. A bill introduced by Heather Wilson, R-N.M., would allow Internet service providers who bear the costs of having to deliver unwanted e-mail messages the right to sue those who dump spam into their networks. The bill is heading to the House Rules Committee. Another bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would prohibit unsolicited e-mail.

“The bills certainly raise First Amendment issues,” said Bagby, a faculty associate of Penn State’s eBusiness Research Center. “An alternate method is to let the private sector figure out a way to filter spam. The legislative mechanisms for preventing spam are unlikely to be effective or cheaply implemented.”

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