The Commission has denied a petition for rulemaking under Section 18 of the FTC Act from the Telecommunications Research and Action Center, the National Consumers League, and Consumer Action regarding certain deceptive aspects of unsolicited commercial email, commonly known as spam. In denying the petition, the Commission stated that although a rule would "define with specificity" those unsolicited email acts or practices that are unlawful, it would not address a more difficult task: identifying and locating spammers. The Commission also states that such a rule would eliminate the need to establish in each case that a particular practice relating to spam is unfair or deceptive, and thus in violation of the FTC Act. The Commission noted, however, that it is typically a fairly straightforward matter to prove that a targeted practice is unlawful – that is, in violation of the FTC Act because it is unfair (likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers themselves and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers and competition) or deceptive (likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances about a material fact).
The Commission stated that the requested rule would offer no enhancement of the FTC’s ability to identify and locate spammers. Therefore, in its letter to the petitioners, the Commission stated that "the possible benefits promised by such a rule do not justify the significant expenditure of time and resources a rulemaking would require," and that rather than engaging in a rulemaking, the FTC can, at this time, "more efficiently and effectively protect the interests of consumers by aggressively continuing to direct law enforcement activities already available under Section 5(a) [of the Act] against particular businesses or individuals that make false or misleading representations in spam e-mail." The Commission vote denying the petition for rulemaking and authorizing staff to notify the parties of this action was 5-0. (FTC File No. P024407; staff contact is Brian Huseman, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-3320.)
In its letter to the petitioners, the Commission emphasized its belief that spam is an enormous and increasing problem for consumers and business. To address various issues surrounding spam and to explore potential solutions to the spam problem, the Commission has announced that it will hold a three-day public forum on April 30-May 2, 2003. See press release dated
Copies of the documents mentioned in this release are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. Call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP.