Spam, as all the unsolicited e-mail is known, has grown from a trickle several years ago to a virtual torrent.
Some experts say the term probably comes from a famous Monty Python comedy skit that featured the word "Spam" repeated over and over in reference to the popular meat product.
Survey firm Public Opinion Strategies found in a recent set of polls that the overwhelming majority of e-mail users -- 88 percent -- would support legislation to strengthen restrictions on spam. Those polled want an end to explicit or pornographic spam and for legislation to establish criminal penalties for spam that contains misleading information regarding the identity of the sender of the e-mail.
"Many companies are now receiving more spam than legitimate, business-related e-mail," noted Susan Getgood, a senior vice president at SurfControl, an e-mail filtering company, which commissioned the survey.
"We already know that more than a quarter of all e-mail a company receives is spam or other junk that costs billions of dollars a year to manage. Now we know that American businesses are looking to federal lawmakers for some relief," Getgood added.
According to the survey, support for federal spam legislation was unwavering, independent of whether respondents received large volumes of spam and irrespective of political party affiliation.
"American businesses are ready for Congress to act against spam," said Bill McInturff, partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies. "We talked to the people who care about this kind of law because they're living the problem every day. The research clearly shows American workers want spam off their desktops and out of their lives."
The survey by POS also found that 68 percent of respondents believed that legislation alone wouldn't solve the problem and that a new law combined with technology was required to control and eliminate spam in the workplace.
Congress might act on the spam issue early in the current session. Senator Conrad Burns, R-Wyo., Chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, said last month that he was optimistic about the chances for passing a spam bill in 2003.
Last session, Burns unsuccessfully introduced a bill along with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., which would have created fraud-fighting regulation by requiring e-marketers to include a working return address to allow recipients the option of refusing further e-mails and prohibited e-marketers from using false subject lines.
The legislation also provided penalties of up to $500,000 for sending unlawful messages, empowered states to bring suit against spammers and made the intentional disguising of identities by spammers subject to criminal penalties.
In the House, a similar bill by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., went after both fraudulent and pornographic spam.
Related to the growing dissatisfaction with spam, the Federal Trade Commission will hold a three-day public "Spam Forum" in April to address the proliferation of spam and explore the technical, financial and legal issues associated with it.
"The best way to fight spam is with a layered approach," said Jon Praed, an attorney who has successfully tried cases against spammers for clients like America Online.
"At the first layer, companies need e-mail filters to block spam. The second layer is a legal one that focuses on the spam that evades those filters, so companies can sue spammers to recover the costs of handling huge volumes of illegal messages."
AOL, a unit of AOL Time Warner, won a court judgment for nearly $7 million in December against what the online service had termed a "spam ring" that targeted AOL members with junk e-mail touting adult Web sites.
The results of the POS poll were based on two national surveys, conducted Dec. 14-15, 2002, and Jan. 7-9, 2003. POS merged the data to yield a total of 1,400 interviews. Of this total, 841 individuals (60 percent) worked outside the home -- and most of these 841 respondents also used a computer at work to access e-mail or the Internet.
The sample of 488 respondents is statistically representative of the American population that is employed outside the home and uses e-mail and the Internet at work. The margin of error for the survey was +/- 4.4 percent.