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Proposed Legislation Would Allow Consumers to Sue Cell Phone Spammers

Aired June 16, 2003 - 19:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Moving on, want to talk about spam a little bit. Not the kind you eat, unfortunately.
Spam is already a major new nuisance to e-mail users. Could become a big problem for cell phone customers, as well. Front Bridge Technologies estimates that currently a little less than 10 percent of the 1 billion text messages sent each month is spam. That percentage is on the rise.

A New Jersey representative, Rush Holt, wants to keep that from happening. He's introduced legislation in Congress that would allow cell phone users to sue their spammers, $500 for each unsolicited text message, up to $1,500 if a judge so decides. Congressman Holt joins us now from Washington.

Congressman, thank you for being with us.

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be with you, Anderson.

COOPER: First of all, let's get a sense of A) How big a problem this is already here in the United States? And also overseas, where I understand it's much worse?

HOLT: Well, overseas it is a big problem. It first came to my attention a couple of years ago when someone I know in New Jersey, his phone rang, it wasn't his wife, wasn't his daughter, it was somebody selling some Internet services. I looked into it and discovered this is a problem that is growing. Right now in Japan, 30 million spam messages per day.

COOPER: Thirty million per day?

HOLT: Per day. And that tsunami is heading toward the United States. Because most of the cell phones that are sold nowadays receive text messages or are capable of receiving text messages.

COOPER: And of course, the irritating thing for consumers is that they are paying for this. When you receive a text message, you have to pay.

HOLT: That's the key point. That's why this is really unfair to consumers. It not only ties up their phone, but it actually in many cases, costs them for the air time that a marketer uses to send a message that the recipient doesn't want.

COOPER: At this point, how are they getting our cell phone numbers? Do you know?

HOLT: You know, they are very resourceful in getting cell phone numbers. They look at lists, you know. However marketers do it. Just as they get our e-mail addresses, just as they get their -- our home addresses.

It's just that, you know, it hasn't become a big business yet because not enough Americans use the cell phones with text messaging. But it is coming up month by month.

COOPER: Congressman, I want to read you a statement from Mobile Marketing Association, where they say, "The Mobile Marketing Association is investigating the creation of national opt-in and opt- out databases that give consumers choice and control of the information they choose to receive."

Basically what they're saying is they want to set up these things where you can log onto a web site and say, "I want to get promotional information about a new record coming out." And then basically, you opt into the system.

Is that going to be allowed under the legislation that you would like to propose?

HOLT: A cell phone owner can sign up for any program that she or he wants, receiving text messaging or not.

My legislation would put the power in the hands of the cell phone owner, who could, if upon receiving unwanted messages, text messaging, could write to the offender, and then if that continues, take them to court and collect money. And I think that would put a stop to it.

COOPER: All right. We'll be tracking this progress of this very closely. Congressman Rush Holt, thanks for joining us.

HOLT: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, using a cell phone can be costly even without that unwanted spam. Wireless telephone service can often be 20 percent higher than the advertised prices. I know that's true in my case.

Why? Well, phone companies are disguising costs to look like government imposed fees and the governments are tacking on taxes that also push up the cost.

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