Bill Targeting Mobile Spam Introduced in Congress

Published July 1, 2009

Two U.S. senators have introduced legislation to reduce the number of unsolicited text messages appearing on America’s cell phones.

Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) in late April cosponsored the m-SPAM Act (S 788). The bill would make it illegal to send commercial text messages to phone numbers listed in the federal Do Not Call Registry. The bill also would give the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission wider authority to regulate unwanted text messages.

Approximately 1.1 billion unsolicited messages landed in cell phones’ text message in-boxes in 2007, according to San Francisco-based Ferris Research, a firm specializing in mobile and Internet messaging. Congress in 2003 passed the CAN-SPAM act to crack down on unwanted email to wired and wireless devices, but the bill did not cover text messages sent from one mobile device to another.

Expanding ‘Do Not Call’

Steven Titch, a policy analyst for technology issues at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, says the m-SPAM bill rightly balances the freedom to market goods and services with government’s valid role of protecting people from harassment.

“The Do Not Call list has been a workable solution in that it allows individuals to choose not to receive unwanted solicitations,” Titch said. “Extending it to unwanted text messages is not a violation of freedom.

“Although some courts have ruled that Do Not Call is a violation of free speech, I think a reasonable person could argue that when the speech takes the form of an unsolicited call to a wired or wireless phone, the caller is being intrusive,” Titch added. “While I respect your right to speak your mind, I am not obliged to build you a platform in my living room.”

Keeping up with Technology

Daniel Castro, a senior analyst with the Washington, DC-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, says the m-SPAM Act is another example of why it is necessary to keep laws in step with changing technology.

“Many people define privacy as the right to be left alone,” said Castro. “This idea can be seen in the Do Not Call registry and the CAN-SPAM Act.

“The CAN-SPAM Act established some basic principles to help decrease the volume of unsolicited commercial e-mail, such as by requiring opt-out requests to be honored,” Castro said. “As new forms of communication, such as text messaging, become more prominent, government oversight should afford U.S. consumers similar protections.

“A combination of government oversight and industry leadership will likely be needed to combat unsolicited commercial text messaging,” Castro added.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

m-SPAM Act of 2009: