“Low interest loans!” “Clear yourself of debt!” “Get a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in six months!”
As Internet users become more and more angry over unsolicited commercial e-mails, known as spam, clogging their mailboxes, pressure grows on Congress do to something about it.
For insurance companies and agents, the concern is whether Congress will go too far. Will legislation aimed at eliminating spam be so far-reaching as to prevent companies and agents from using the Internet to communicate with their customers?
The issue that Congress should focus on, says David Winston, former vice president of government affairs for the Falls Church, Va.-based National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, is unsolicited misleading or pornographic e-mail.
Congress should be careful not to prevent legitimate businesses from using the Internet to reach out to consumers, he notes.
“The use of e-mail is an economical and efficient way for small businesses to promote their products and increase their visibility among consumers,” Winston says.
John Savercool, vice president of federal affairs for the Washington-based American Insurance Association, agrees.
While some of the legislation considered in the past appeared on the surface only to target spam, he says, the reach was far broader.
Some of the bills, he notes, would not just have affected spam, but also legitimate communications between businesses and their customers, including customers who said they want to use the Internet as their primary communications tool.
David Leifer, senior counsel with the American Council of Life Insurers, says ACLI recognizes that spam is a legitimate concern. But the focus, he asserts, should be on pornography and fraud. That, he says, represents a huge percentage of the problem.
As of this writing, anti-spamming legislation has not yet been introduced in the 108th Congress.
But there is little doubt that legislation is on the way, and Savercool believes Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who introduced a bill in the 107th Congress, is likely to be the first one out of the gate.
Indeed, in a statement earlier this year, Burns called spam the “Trojan Horse for e-commerce.”
In laying out his agenda as new Chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, Burns cited a study from San Francisco-based Ferris Research which says spam costs U.S. businesses some $9 billion annually.
According to the study, Internet users spend an average of 4.4 seconds to delete spam e-mail every time they check their inboxes. This, the study says, results in $4 billion of lost productivity each year.
Moreover, the study says, businesses have had to spend another $3.7 billion in servers and bandwidth to cope with the increased traffic.
“This is evidence spam has handcuffed American businesses,” Burns says. “The $9 billion spent dealing with spam could have been $9 billion used to invest back into the business or to avert layoffs.”
Although Sen. Burns has not yet introduced legislation in the new Congress, he sponsored S. 630 last year. The legislation was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee but was never brought to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.
Called the CANSPAM Act, the legislation would have made it a crime to transmit false or misleading information by e-mail, barred deceptive subject headings, mandated inclusion of a return address or comparable mechanism in unsolicited e-mail, prohibited the transmission of spam after objection and mandated identification of the sender.