Washington court: Don't spam our residents

A court finds that a state law cracking down on junk e-mail doesn't violate interstate commerce laws.

2 min read
The Washington state Supreme Court upheld the state's strict anti-spam law, which prohibits senders of unsolicited e-mails from forging headers or faking addresses when sending messages to or from Washington-based computers.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, the court said the anti-spam law does not violate federal interstate commerce regulations, overturning a lower court finding that it unfairly burdened companies.

"To be weighed against the act's local benefits, the only burden the act places on spammers is the requirement of truthfulness, a requirement that does not burden commerce at all but actually facilitates it by eliminating fraud and deception," the ruling stated.

Washington approved its anti-spam law in 1998. Four months after the law went into effect, the state attorney general filed its first spam suit against Jason Heckel, an Oregon resident who had been sending unsolicited offers of an online booklet titled "How to Profit from the Internet" for $39.95.

Last year, a trial judge ruled the act "unduly restrictive and burdensome"--partly because it requires companies to distinguish between Washington residents and those living in other states. The judge also awarded Heckel attorney's fees. However, the state attorney general appealed that finding, resulting in Wednesday's ruling.

Since Washington passed its law, about 18 states have enacted some type of prohibition on spam, though the regulations have had little teeth because they've been difficult to enforce.

Anti-spam legislation also is moving through Congress. The federal bills would outlaw some spam practices such as using fake e-mail addresses.

Critics think the proposed regulations have only a slim chance of passing, however. The bills have become progressively weaker under criticism from people who say they violate free-speech rights and commerce laws. Two weeks ago, a House committee cut wording that would have let consumers sue spammers who don't follow requests to be removed from a mailing list.