FTC Chairman Doubtful of Anti-Spam List

The federal "Can Spam" legislation that went into effect Jan. 1 encourages the agency to create a "do-not-spam" list of e-mail addresses. It is similar to the FTC's popular do-not-call registry that blocks unwanted phone calls from telemarketers.

People would sign up for the service and submit their e-mail addresses to the government. E-mail senders would then be barred from e-mailing those addresses.

The FTC is due to submit a report to Congress by mid-June on establishing such a list.

Chairman Timothy Muris, repeating comments he made before the bill passed, said he does not think the FTC can come up with a way to enforce such a list and significantly reduce unwanted e-mail.

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"I've seen nothing to change my mind," he said at a conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America.

"The beauty of the Internet, of course, is that you can e-mail anybody, anywhere in the world. The bane of the Internet is that anybody, anywhere in the world, can e-mail you," Muris said.

The problem, he said, is tracking down the spammers. Many are overseas. Many use aliases or conceal their identities by routing e-mail through hacked or unprotected computers.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the list is the last hope for consumers who are tired of daily e-mail pitches for weight loss plans and body-enhancing products.

"Nothing else has worked so far in the effort to blast spam," Schumer said. "We're counting on and expecting the FTC to go all out in its efforts to come up with a way to make this registry work."

Muris said new tools, such as applying a fee to send e-mails, may have to be explored.

"It may come to that, and that system has some attraction," he said. But he added: "I hope we don't have to resort to a system that requires major changes."

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, among others, has suggested the idea of buying "stamps" for e-mail as a way of fighting spam.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it is looking at how to protect consumers from receiving spam on their cell phones and other wireless devices.

More than 60 percent of all Internet e-mail sent worldwide is spam, according to Linda Smith Munyan, a spokeswoman for Brightmail, a San Francisco company that helps Internet providers block spam. Only 7 percent of e-mail was spam in 2001.