For Release: October 30, 2003
The Federal Trade Commission today told the House Committee on Small Business that solving the problem posed by spam will not be quick or easy and that a single approach won't provide a cure. In testimony before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Oversight, Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the spam problem will require a blend of technology, enforcement, legislation, and consumer and business education. "Any solution to the problems caused by spam should contain the following elements: enhanced enforcement tools to combat fraud and deception; support for the development and deployment of technological tools to fight spam; enhanced business and consumer education; and the study of business methods to reduce the volume of spam."
The testimony notes that spam has a damaging effect on business - particularly on small business. "The flood of fraudulent and offensive spam robs businesses that would like to use commercial e-mail messages as a low-cost way to market their goods and services. Legitimate sellers' messages tend to be drowned out or ignored by consumers who are inured to commercial e-mail messages because so much spam is so distasteful." The testimony states that small business may not be able to afford technology tools to combat spam that bigger businesses can.
The Commission has established a Federal/State Spam Task Force to strengthen cooperation with civil and criminal enforcers and to help overcome some of the obstacles that spam prosecutions present. The Task Force members can share information obtained in spam investigations and "apprise participating agencies of the latest spamming technology, spammer ploys, and investigational techniques," according to the testimony.
While the Commission has pursued a rigorous law enforcement effort targeting deceptive spammers and has brought 55 cases to date, locating spammers is a challenge for all law enforcers, the testimony says. "Spammers can easily hide their identity, falsify the electronic path of their e-mail messages, or send their messages from anywhere in the world . . ."
The testimony notes that the FTC has called for certain legislation to enhance its FTC's ability to fight fraudulent spam. "First, legislation must address how to find the person sending the spam messages . . . Second, legislation must deal with how to deter the person sending the spam messages . . . Finally, legislation must determine what standards will govern non-deceptive, unsolicited commercial e-mail."
E-mail can offer enormous benefits and convenience for consumers and businesses alike, the testimony concludes. The increasing volume of spam, however, coupled with the widespread use of spam to perpetuate fraud and deception put the benefits at risk. "The Commission looks forward to continuing its research, education, and law enforcement efforts to protect consumers and business from the current onslaught of unwanted messages."
Copies of the testimony 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. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. P00 4101)