WASHINGTON - Members of Congress are proposing a variety of ways to fight unwanted e-mail.
Federal regulators say the problem of spam, or unwanted e-mail, has gotten so bad that something must be done to protect the Internet correspondence that has become a way of life.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is proposing a national "do-not-spam" registry similar to a service that's to start that blocks unwanted telemarketing calls.
Another proposal, by Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would require spam to have valid return addresses. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said she would seek federal legislation offering rewards for people who help track down spammers.
Most of the panelists at a Federal Trade Commission forum this past week said that a strong federal anti-spam law is needed and would be better than the mix of local laws now in 29 states.
But the chairman of the industry-supported Global Internet Project warned that any U.S. law would do little to stop spam from other countries and the only solution is blocking it with new technology.
Junk e-mails are a rapidly growing problem, with the anti-spam company Brightmail recording 6.7 million instances of multiple unsolicited messages being sent out in March, a 78 percent increase from a year ago.
"Things are worse than we imagined," said Eileen Harrington, the FTC's director of marketing practices. "There is consensus that the problem has reached a tipping point. If there are not immediate improvements implemented across the board by technologists, service providers and perhaps lawmakers, e-mail is at risk of being run into the ground."
Harrington said that was the impression left by the dozens of technology experts, government officials, industry executives and lawyers who flocked to Washington to discuss the problem of unwanted commercial e-mail and what to do about it.
Companies have been developing mail filters and users have been limiting distribution of their e-mail addresses to cut down on junk mail. Persistent spammers have found ways to dodge those obstacles.
Several states require spam e-mail to have a subject line beginning with "ADV" to identify it as advertising. The FTC found that less than 2 percent of spam used this label.