CAN-SPAM Act of 2003: Legislative Context and Background

can-spam_act_legislative background

Section 2(a) of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 provides a statement of Congressional Findings, which sheds some light on Congress's perception that legislation was necessary in 2003 to address the issue of spam email.  These Findings include:

(1) a statement as to the personal and commercial importance of email, with an emphasis placed on the potential of email to enable "frictionless commerce";

(2) a statement of concern about the "extremely rapid growth" in spam, accompanied by estimates that spam comprised more than half of all email traffic around 2003;

(3)-(6) descriptions of the costs and harms associated with spam, including financial and personal costs to email recipients, as well as costs to internet service providers, businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions;

(7)-(8) descriptions of deceptive practices employed by some senders of spam email: disguising the source of email and including misleading messages in the email "subject" line to induce a recipient to open the email;

(9) a description of the range of "opt-out" options being provided by commercial emailers, along with a statement that some senders fail to provide options for "opt-out," and/or fail to honor requests for "opt-out";

(10) a description of a practice employed by "many" senders of spam: the use of computer programs to harvest large numbers of email addresses from websites or online services;

(11) a statement about the variety and inconsistency in state legislative attempts to reduce spam, along with an expression of concern that, due to the nature of email communications, it may be difficult for law-abiding businesses to comply with multiple, inconsistent state regulatory frameworks;

(12) a statement that Federal legislation alone cannot solve the problems associated with spam, and that "technological approaches" and cooperation with other countries will be necessary to fully address the problem.

These Congressional Findings are codified at 15 U.S.C. § 7701(a).

The Senate Commerce Committee Report supplements these Findings, organizing its section on "Background and Needs" under the following four conceptual headings:

(1) The Rapidly Increasing Volume of Spam;

(2) Deceptive Sender Information and Subject Lines;

(3) Fraudulent Schemes, Privacy Risks, and Objectionable Content;

(4) Costs to Internet Service Providers, Consumers, and Businesses.

See S. Rep. No. 108-102 (2003), at 2-7.

Taken together, these Congressional statements provide insight into the legislative context within which Congress enacted the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, and the policy goals Congress sought to achieve.  These statements can therefore serve as an aid in interpreting the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, and in understanding its limitations as a solution to the problem of spam.