Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


SEATTLE - June 11, 1998 - Washington's e-mail users now have some protection against those who inundate their e-mail boxes with junk e-mail. Today Washington's new junk e-mail law went into effect making it illegal to use false or misleading information when sending an unsolicited, commercial e-mail.

“Junk e-mail clogs consumers mailboxes with unwanted advertisements for some very questionable products,” said Attorney General Christine Gregoire. “It's not only a major annoyance, it is also very expensive for both consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISP's).”

She said conservative estimates indicate that ISP's spend at least $2 to $3 a month for each consumer to explain, remove, and pursue junk e-mailers. That can add up to millions of dollars in unnecessary and unwanted costs each month.

The problem of junk e-mail has grown substantially over the past few years. Up to eighty percent of the unsolicited e-mail messages sent to Internet users contain some kind of deceptive information.

Washington's new law will not stop junk e-mail. It does make it illegal to falsify information about the sender, to use false or misleading information in the subject line and to use a third party's e-mail address without that party's permission.

The law covers e-mail originating from a computer located in Washington or sent to a Washington e-mail address. It will not protect e-mail users in other states, unless the message was sent from a Washington computer.

Victims of illegal junk e-mail can use the new law to recover damages. Anyone who breaks the law can be required to pay $500 to individual e-mail recipients and $1,000 to ISPs for each proved violation.

Would-be junk e-mail senders are required to find out which of their intended recipients live in Washington. Gregoire urges Washington Internet users to contact their ISPs and ask them to notify senders they have a Washington e-mail address.

However, Gregoire is not confident all ISPs will offer that service. As a fallback, the AG's office and the Washington State Internet Service Providers (WAISP) have set up a special registry that senders can use to identify recipient e-mail addresses.

“This is not a perfect law, but it will start a process for changing the behavior of those who use the Internet to market their products and services,” said Gregoire.

Common products or services often marketed through unsolicited commercial e-mail include illegal pyramid and multi-level marketing schemes, get-rich-quick schemes, gambling services and pornography.

The registry, which is a secure site, can be reached through the AG's home page at www.atg.wa.gov or directly at http//registry.waisp.org. Senders of e-mail can use this registry as one of the ways to check if an e-mail address belongs to a Washington resident.

Consumers are encouraged to visit the AG website at www.atg.wa.gov to learn more about the new law and ways to protect themselves against junk e-mail. Anyone wanting to file a complaint about illegal, unsolicited commercial e-mail received on or after June 11, 1998 should send an e-mail to the Attorney General at junkemail@atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636.