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Washington state joins spam war

The state's governor signs a bill that prohibits junk emailers from using deceptive practices to spam state residents.

Washington Governor Gary Locke this evening signed an antispam bill that foes of junk email say will give them an important weapon in their battle against spam.

While the bill does not ban spam outright, it makes it illegal for junk emailers to forge headers, hijack other email systems, or otherwise "misrepresent the messages' point of origin." Because most Internet service providers have strict rules against spam, most junk emailers employ one or all of those methods to get mass mailings out to the Net.

Gary Gardner, executive director of the Washington Association of Internet Service Providers, said that accounts for about 80 percent to 85 percent of spam.

The law, he said, "gives ISPs a tool--perhaps the first tool--to go after individual defenders of spam." While other laws have been passed, he said this one will be more effective because it gives ISPs the right to sue.

He added that the Washington Attorney General's Office initiated the push for the legislation and that his organization and the many member ISPs also lobbied for it.

Both Gardner and John Mozena, cofounder of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, said grassroots lobbying was key in getting the legislation passed.

Gardner said the legislation started as an outright ban of spam, but was eventually toned down. The legislature can make the law even stronger, he added.

A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment.

"It's a toe-hold in the door for ISPs to go after the most egregious spammers and a way for the Internet community to work with the legislative staff," Gardner said.

The law applies to anyone within the state of Washington who sends forged junk email. It also bans anyone from sending it to Washington residents, a move that could have impact beyond Washington's borders, as it is often impossible to know the physical location of email recipients.

Today's law is yet another example of how local legislators are trying to tackle an Internet-wide problem, state by state.

California also has introduced legislation to keep Netizens from receiving unsolicited commercial email.

Though most spam fighters are looking toward national legislation to ultimately address the issue of unsolicited junk email, they also praise states that are passing legislation banning it.

"Will it solve the spam problem? No," Gardner said. "But it will give us a tool to start making a dent in it. Overall, the solution is going to be a nationwide ban--but that's going to be a long time in coming. At least the residents of the state of Washington will have some tool."