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Thursday, February 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Legislation to toughen spam rules coasting through state committees

Seattle Times consumer affairs reporter

A bill designed to make crystal clear that the state's district-court judges can take on spam cases involving out-of-state defendants is sailing through the Legislature, backers say.

Introduced by the state Attorney General's office, a House version (House Bill 1287) passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It will go to the floor for approval tomorrow or Monday, said prime sponsor John Lovick, D-Mill Creek.

Testifying about the need for the new law last week, Attorney General Christine Gregoire said consumers trying to take advantage of the state's 1998 anti-spam law had met with varying degrees of success in district courts.

The law prohibits sending unsolicited commercial e-mail that contains misleading information in its subject line, uses a third party's domain name without permission, or misrepresents the message's point of origin.

Gregoire cited a case where a plaintiff was required to pay attorneys' fees and his suit was dismissed because the court ruled it did not have jurisdiction over out-of-state spammers.

Gregoire didn't identify the judge, but senior aide Dave Horn confirmed she was referring to a case before Seattle District Court Judge Eileen Kato. Last summer, Kato imposed a $6,925 judgment against Joel Hodgell to compensate Seattle attorney Derek Newman, who defended a well-known Florida spammer and his business, Samson Distributing, also known as SDI Labs, which sent bulk e-mail promoting anabolic-bodybuilding supplements.

If the proposed bill had been law, Kato could not have ruled as she did, Horn said yesterday. Members of the state District and Municipal Court Judges Association agreed that state law could use some clarification, he added.

Yesterday, Newman said he had no problem with the legislation, and contended Kato could have reached the same conclusion even if it had been law. The basis of his argument, Newman said, was that his client did not have a reasonable expectation that his spam would harm Washington residents, which is a separate question from what the legislation addresses.

Gregoire was scheduled to testify again today on behalf of a companion bill (Senate Bill 5574) before the Senate Technology & Communications Committee chaired by Luke Esser, R-Bellevue. Esser said he expects the bill will fly through his committee next week.

Among those who are not thrilled by the legislation is Bennett Haselton of Bellevue, who has filed more than 30 cases in the small-claims division of District Court. The legislation does nothing to support the right of citizens to pursue out-of-state spammers in that informal venue; in fact, Horn said his office's analysis suggests that state law may bar out-of-state spammer cases in small-claims court.

Meantime, spam volumes are rising. Brightmail, a San Francisco-based anti-spam filtering company, recently reported that the number of spam attacks received by its "probe network" rose to more than 6 million in January 2003, compared to 2.7 million in January 2002. Each attack represents multiple messages.

A spokeswoman attributed the steep growth to wider availability of spamming software and spamming CDs; faster hardware for spewing millions of messages at a time; economic conditions that encourage multilevel marketing and other "entrepreneurial" endeavors outside of the norm; and growing adoption of e-mail and the Internet.

Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or plewis@seattletimes.com

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