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Va. Bill Targets Some ‘Junk’ E-Mail

February 24, 1999

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Legislation that would make it a crime to clog the Internet with unsolicited junk e-mail cleared the General Assembly and is on its way to the governor.

The House of Delegates agreed Tuesday to Senate amendments, sending the measure to outlaw ``spamming″ to the Gov. Jim Gilmore, who has promised to sign it.

Virginia would become the second state to criminalize spamming. California enacted a law last year, said Neil Osten of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states have passed laws making spamming grounds for a lawsuit.

The legislation is aimed at those who advertise products by sending thousands or even millions of e-mail messages to computer users. Sometimes the output is so massive it causes backups or crashes on networks of Internet service companies.

Many spammers use false on-line identities and send e-mail under a fake address. The legislation would make that a misdemeanor. But violations could rise to a felony if spamming is caused by a ``malicious act″ and results in more than $2,500 in damage to the victim. It also would make it illegal to own software that helps people falsify their on-line identities.

The legislation also creates civil penalties for spammers whose e-mails cause a computer system to crash. The fines would range from $10 per message to $25,000 per day.

Virginia-based America Online, which has more than 16 million subscribers, supports the legislation.

AOL is already going after spammers using existing state laws where possible, said Randall Boe, associate general counsel for the Dulles-based Internet provider. But the hard part is getting damage awards. ``We have only been able to recover the cost of sending e-mail,″ which is a very small amount, Boe said.

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