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Given at a Full Committee Hearing:
Hearing on Spam (Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail)
Wednesday, May 21 2003 - 9:30 AM - SR-253
The Testimony of
The Honorable Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator (D-NY),

Chairman McCain, Senator Hollings, Colleagues, Good Morning.

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing to address Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail or Spam. I also want to commend Senators Burns and Wyden for their leadership and hard work on this issue.

I believe we are under siege. Armies of online marketers have overrun email inboxes across the country with advertisements for herbal remedies, get-rich-quick schemes and pornography.

As you are all aware, spam traffic is growing at a geometric rate, causing the Superhighway to enter a state of virtual gridlock. What was a simple annoyance last year has become a major concern this year and could cripple one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century next year if nothing is done.

Way back in 1999, the average email user received just 40 pieces of unsolicited commercial email - what we call spam - each year. This year, the number is expected to pass 2,500. I know that I'm lucky if I don't get 40 pieces of spam every couple of days!

As a result, a revolution against spam is brewing as the epidemic of junk email exacts an ever increasing toll on families, businesses and the economy.

Let me illustrate this point with a story. My wife and I have two wonderful children, one of whom is just about to complete her first year at college. The other, a 14 year-old girl, is an absolute whiz on the Internet who loves sending and receiving email.

As parents, we do our best to make sure she has good values and that the Internet is a positive experience for her - a device to help her with her schoolwork or learn about events taking place around the world and, maybe even a way to order the latest In Sync CD.

You can imagine my anger and dismay when I discovered that not only was she a victim of spam like myself, but, like all email users, much of the junk email she was receiving advertised pornographic web sites. I was and remain virtually powerless to prevent such garbage from reaching my daughter's inbox. The frustration I feel in the battle against spam is one that I think business owners and Internet Service Providers across that nation can identify with.

According to Ferris Research, spam costs businesses in the United States $10 billion each year in lost productivity, consumption of Information Technology resources and help-desk time. With surveys showing that over 40% of email traffic qualifies as spam, ISPs spend millions of dollars each year on research, filtering software and new servers to deal with the ever expanding volume of junk email being sent through their pipes.

And, if the spam itself isn't enough, spammers often engage in crimes such as identity theft and fraud to secure email addresses and domain names from which to send millions of pieces of junk email.

All of this demonstrates that it's time to take back the Internet from the spammers. And why I am joining you today in saying that enough is enough.

We all know that spammers use a variety of tools and methods to send millions of email messages each day. In order to be effective, I believe spam solutions will have to be as creative and varied as the spammers' efforts.

We should give law enforcement officials, ISPs and others a wide variety of tools to fight spam. Among the possible solutions that are exist - and this is not an exhaustive list - are pending legislation in the Senate and the House the would enact anti-email harvesting provisions and special email labeling requirements; stipulate valid unsubscribe features; and prohibit false and fraudulent header, router and subject line information.

And that's just a start. As I said before, because of the dramatic challenges we face in stemming the spam flood, we need a multi-pronged approach.

In particular, I believe stiff criminal penalties - including jail time for repeat offenders - are warranted. I am working with my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee on a bill to create these new penalties.

We will hunt down spammers one by one, using criminal penalties to show what will happen to those who continue to send junk email.

Another idea I have offered is a National No-Spam Registry. This list, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, would be a gigantic database of people who have "opted out" of receiving spam by submitting their email addresses to the list.

The list is modeled on the highly successful Do-Not-Call registries that have been used to ward off telemarketers.

Although a similar list for email addresses poses security challenges that must be addressed before implementation, I am hopeful that this list might be one way we can give consumers control over their in-boxes.

None of these solutions will be the silver bullet that stops all spam. But a multi-faceted approach has a better chance of reducing the ever-growing amount of spam than a solitary solution. And stemming this rising tide is essential if the internet is to continue to be an effective medium of communication and commerce.

If spam continues to grow, people will rely on their email less and less. Right now, consumers are becoming so frustrated at the junk email bombardment that they delete legitimate commercial email as if it were spam.

This is why so many interested parties, including the Direct Marketing Association, have come around to the view that the federal government can play a meaningful role in stopping spam.

They know that effective federal anti-spam legislation will make it is more likely that consumers will read legitimate marketing messages.

I think we can all agree that spammers must not be allowed to bog down the vast potential of email and the Internet.

It is my hope that the impressive roster of panelists you have assembled here today will stimulate ideas to stop spammers in their tracks. I look forward to hearing their testimony and working with all of you to bring and end to the current junk email epidemic.