One small victory for spammers

One great setback for mankind? A US state judge rules that its tough law regulating junk email is unconstitutional

A Washington state judge ruled on Tuesday that its anti-spam law, one of the strongest in the US, is unconstitutional. That ruling came as the judge dismissed the first lawsuit brought by the state against an individual who had sent junk emails.

King County Superior Judge, Palmer Robinson, ruled that the law violates the interstate-commerce clause of the US Constitution because it is "unduly restrictive and burdensome", and hurts legitimate businesses more than it helps consumers.

The 1998 statute bans commercial email with misleading information in the subject line, an invalid reply address or a disguised path of transmission across the Internet. The law was enacted after consumers and Internet service providers (ISPs) complained to the attorney general's office about the deluge of spam. Under the law, Washington state-based individuals, ISPs or the attorney general's office can file a civil suit against those sending spam.

The lawsuit was brought by state attorney general Christine Gregoire's office against Jason Heckel of Salem, Oregon. The suit was prompted by 17 complaints to the office that Heckel had sent "get rich quick for $39.95" messages. In one complaint, the person alleged that money had been sent and the promised product was never received.

Assistant state attorney Regina Cullen, who is handling the case, said she was disappointed in the ruling. "Misleading speech is not protected by the first amendment," Cullen said. "Why should interstate-commerce considerations override that fact?"

Cullen acknowledged that the subject is "extremely timely and worthy of consideration by a higher court", and she said an appeal will be filed before the 10 April deadline. Several individuals and corporations have filed suits under the law. Of the cases previously disposed, all have either been settled or have judgements against the spammers.

Snooping or marketing -- there is a fine line between the two. Go with Ken Young of AnchorDesk UK to read the news comment.

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