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Michigan Senate passes antispam bill

Modeling itself on a federal bill that would create a national spam opt-out list, the Michigan Senate passes what one member described as the nation's toughest antispam bill.

Modeling itself on a federal bill that would create a national spam opt-out list, the Michigan Senate passed what one member described as the nation's toughest antispam bill.

Michigan S.B. 357, as amended before its unanimous passage Tuesday, would establish a statewide registry for people who do not wish to receive unsolicited commercial e-mail. Businesses that spam members on that list would face steep fines.

"Today the state Senate of Michigan affirmed their support for creating the toughest antispam law in the nation," Republican state Sen. Michael Bishop said in a statement. "Our creation of a 'do not e-mail' list pushes Michigan to the forefront in protection against unsolicited e-mail."

The notion of creating such a list is not new. The Direct Marketing Association, credit card companies and other private groups maintain lists of people who do not want to receive solicitations through the postal mail, and their members are expected to check their marketing lists against them. The Federal Trade Commission is establishing its own "do not call" list for people who don't want telemarketers to call them.

On the spam front, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill that would create a national "do not e-mail" registry, with violations costing spammers $1,000 per message.

Violations of the Michigan bill, should it become law, would face misdemeanor charges, along with imprisonment of up to one year and fines of up to $10,000. Those penalties could be imposed on the spammer on a per-message basis.

In a civil case, plaintiffs could recover actual damages. Alternately, they could sue for the lesser of $500 per spam message or $250,000 for each day the spam is received.

Recipients and e-mail service providers would also be allowed to recover costs and attorney fees.

Attorneys familiar with the bill raised the question of whether the Michigan registry might wind up falling into the hands of spammers.

"A database of do-not-spam-me e-mail addresses creates a juicy target for spammers beyond the reach of Michigan's law," said Eric Goldman, an assistant professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. "If a spammer governed by the law gets his/her hands on the database and then accidentally leaks it, well, the horse is out of the barn."

One technology company that advised the bill's authors said it had devised a system that would protect the list.

"Theft is our biggest concern," said Matthew Prince, chief executive of Chicago-based Unspam. Prince described his company's system, for which it has applied for a patent, as a one-way encryption scheme that would translate the registry's e-mail addresses into "gobbledygook" that would be practically impossible to translate back.

Marketers would be able to check their lists of potential commercial e-mail recipients by doing the same one-way translation and checking those encrypted names against the state's.

The bill, which would also create a "parental block" for helping parents and guardians regulate what kind of spam gets through to children, will have to pass the Michigan House and gain Gov. Jennifer Granholm's signature to become law.