In the midst of his election concerns, California Governor Gray Davis found time to yesterday sign into state law SB 186 – a law that imposes penalties of up to $1 million on some spammers. The law addresses the harvesting of email addresses, the automation of signing up for email accounts, the sending of email with phony headers, and the sending of commercial email without giving the user a functional opt-out mechanism. But will it really mean anything? Or is it more West Coast spin?

“Companies will no longer ignore consumers’ unsubscribe requests without severe penalty,” Senator Kevin Murray, who sponsored the California bill, said in a statement.

Some of the provisions, such as aspects of the fraudulent header ban, are arguably already covered by the law, as recent lawsuits against alleged spammers by ISPs suggests. Other provisions are arguably already covered by most ISPs’ service agreements.

The Murray bill replaced the arguably stronger bill proposed by State Senator Debra Bowen, SB-12. Bowen claimed that her bill was shot down and replaced with Murray’s effort after lobbying from Microsoft Corp and America Online Inc.

There are a number of carve-outs for ISPs and email providers. Microsoft, for example, will be allowed to send commercial email to its Hotmail users under the new law. Also, ISPs are specifically not held liable for spam passing through their networks.

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