Bill would outlaw
wireless spam

A Pearl City legislator hopes
to short-circuit a potential nuisance

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

With the proliferation of such mobile devices as two-way pagers and text-enabled cellular phones also comes the advance in commercial technology that allows advertisers to send unsolicited messages, or spam, straight to wireless gadgets.

As the issue gains widespread attention in Europe and Japan, some consumer advocates say it is only a matter of time before U.S. consumers are left with having to delete, block or otherwise deal with wireless spam.

Hawaii lawmakers are looking to cut off the problem before it becomes a nuisance.

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A bill introduced by Rep. Roy Takumi would prohibit unsolicited telemarketing calls, text, graphic or picture messages sent by solicitors to mobile devices.

"Sometimes social policy has to move with the technology," said Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).

"It seems to me, if you don't attempt to address it, it's just going to get worse.

"As the technology gets a little more sophisticated and so on, I would hate for any consumer out there to get, say, 60 minutes of spam a month on their cell phone."

Spam messages sent to e-mail accounts have long been a target of consumer advocates and have led to legislation pending in Congress and a handful of states that would ban the practice, according to the nonprofit Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.

Technically, federal law prohibiting unsolicited fax ads, or "junk faxes," covers similar messages sent to mobile devices.

But the law was written in the early 1990s, and now many states are re-examining their laws and exploring additional measures to ensure consumers are protected and to "fill in the gaps" in current law, said Ray Everett-Church, an attorney for the coalition.

For example, California Gov. Gray Davis approved legislation in September making state law conform to federal law banning junk faxes and unsolicited text messages on cell phones.

Wireless spam has been more of a problem overseas than in the United States, said Everett-Church.

"It's a huge problem in Europe, it's a huge problem in Japan," he said. "I see news articles from time to time discussing how the wireless system in a certain city or serving a certain area went down because of some junk-message spammers that have overloaded the system."

It is unclear how pervasive the problem is in Hawaii.

"We haven't seen inordinate amounts of complaints over a period of time," said Georgia Taylor, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, a major carrier in Hawaii.

She said subscribers are encouraged to report spam being sent to their cell phones or pagers.

Takumi said he also is unsure how pervasive the problem is.

"I expect all this to come out in a hearing where they'll say whether it's a real or perceived problem and whether or not they've gotten complaints," he said. "I'll be the first to say that if no one has a problem with this in our state, maybe now is not the time to do anything on it.

"We won't really know until we have a public hearing on it and people can come in and state their own opinion on it."

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