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Judge Finds Washington State Anti-Spam Law Unconstitutional

King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson has ruled Washington State’s 1998 anti-spam legislation unconstitutional under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, holding that the law is "unduly restrictive and burdensome" on businesses. Robinson dismissed with prejudice a case brought by Washington State’s attorney general against an Oregon man using unsolicited email to promote a get-rich-quick package, and signed an order allowing the defendant to attempt to recover costs and legal fees. The attorney general’s office has until 10-Apr-2000 to decide whether to file an appeal.

TidBITS also filed a lawsuit in July of 1998 under the same Washington State anti-spam law.

Washington’s anti-spam law bans unsolicited commercial email messages sent to a Washington State email address or from a computer in Washington State which uses misleading information in the subject line, uses an invalid reply address, or attempts to disguise the manner in which the message was delivered. Spammers are deemed to know if an address is in Washington State if available information indicates a domain is located in Washington, or if the address is included in a registry of Washington State email addresses. Although Judge Robinson has not elaborated, she may have found the requirement that senders proactively identify Washington State email addresses as too restrictive; however, in order to meet the conditions of the statute, messages must both misrepresent themselves and be sent to a Washington address or from a computer in Washington State. An out-of-state business that sends email to Washington residents is not subject to the anti-spam law so long as they don’t misrepresent themselves in the subject, reply address, or routing information in the email – even if the message is unsolicited.

Although at this point the case does not have any significance in terms of precedence, legal experts and consumer advocates are widely disagreeing with Judge Robinson’s dismissal, and TidBITS joins them in calling for the state to appeal the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court.

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