By Ted Bridis
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The House announced a surprise compromise Friday to impose tough new limits on sending unwanted commercial e-mails, moving Congress closer to its first-ever protections against irritating offers for prescription drugs, cheap loans and herbal remedies.
The compromise, expected to be approved in the House today, would outlaw the shadiest techniques used by many of the Internet's most prolific e-mailers and would include penalties of up to five years in prison in rare circumstances. The bill would supplant even tougher anti-spam laws already passed in some states.
Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, called the effort "an important first step in restoring consumers' control over their inboxes."
The measure largely mirrored the "Can Spam" legislation the Senate approved last month, offering supporters hope that slight differences could be resolved before Congress was expected to adjourn next week. The Bush administration has supported anti-spam efforts.
"Now we can go back to looking forward to opening our inboxes in the morning because we'll have notes from our friends rather than herbal supplements and mortgage offers," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.
The House appeared to approve its compromise in a voice vote late Friday, but lawmakers called for a formal counted vote, which was delayed until early today. The Senate passed its bill last month. The government's hurried efforts so late in the congressional session were fueled by Internet users fed up with inboxes clogged with unwanted offers for pornography and get-rich schemes.
The compromise bill would "end all of that nonsense and bring peace of mind back to everyone who sends and receives e-mail," said Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bills would prohibit senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from disguising their identity by using a false return address or misleading subject line. They also would prohibit senders from harvesting addresses off Web sites and require a mechanism so recipients can indicate they do not want future mass mailings.
Both bills authorize the Federal Trade Commission to establish a do-not-spam list, similar to the agency's popular do-not-call list of telephone numbers that marketers are supposed not to call.
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