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Legislative Memo: E-mail “Spam”

This bill would require that all unsolicited commercial electronic mail disclose the sender’s legal name, complete street address and electronic mail address or telephone number.

Commercial advertising is entitled to the protection of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and association. While we recognize the need in certain circumstances to regulate commercial speech in order to minimize fraud, deception and misrepresentations, this bill’s blanket provision forcing all senders to disclose their identities is not tailored to accomplish that purpose.

As the sponsor’s memo indicates, the bill is responding to a perception that such electronic mail is “bothersome and costly to the recipient” and that “it is often [disguised] as something other than an advertisement,” although it provides no findings in support of those contentions. Forced disclosure of the sender’s identity will cure neither of these concerns, and would apply even to those communications that are not “disguised.”

Receiving unwanted e-mail is in the same category as being offered an unwanted pamphlet on the street corner. As the use of the Internet becomes more and more prevalent in our society, with chat rooms, instant messages and electronic mail, it is rapidly becoming the street corner of the information age. We should not limit the First Amendment rights of those who wish to use that forum to offer their digital leaflets, anonymous or otherwise, to those who pass by.

The NYCLU opposes passage of this bill.

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Civil Liberties Union