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AOL and State Seek Stronger Anti-Spam Law

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The bill, sponsored by Delegate Harvey B. Morgan, R-Gloucester, adds language to the Virginia Anti-Spamming Act to allow the state to prosecute businesses that hire professional spam companies.

"That minor tweak will allow us to get at companies that are not covered under the current law," says Lisa Hicks-Thomas, director of the computer-crimes unit of the attorney general's office. "We believe this will act as a deterrent … or they [the businesses] might be more careful about the marketing companies they hire."

Businesses successfully prosecuted under the act could be fined up to $25,000 a day.

Online giant AOL, based in Northern Virginia, has been working closely with the AG's office to get the bill passed. Unwanted e-mail ads have bedeviled AOL for years. The company says its customers report 2 million unwanted messages a day.

It's not just a nuisance, AOL and other Internet service providers say — all that data is bogging down their computer servers and costing them millions to combat.

AOL has used the current law successfully in Virginia. In December, AOL won a $6.9 million judgment against a company accused of sending more than a billion junk e-mail messages advertising online porn sites.

"This 'reach-through' provision will let ISPs [Internet service providers] go after more of the people who are causing the problem," says Doug Koelemay, a lobbyist for AOL and other technology companies. He compares the proposal to federal RICO anti-crime statutes.

A message requesting comment from the Direct Marketing Association, which represents direct-mail businesses of all kinds, was not returned.

— Greg Weatherford

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