Amid a chorus of voices calling on the U.S. Congress to do something about spam, lawmakers appear to be ready to pass anti-spam legislation this year, but consumer advocacy groups say current proposals are likely to lead to more spam, not less.

Most witnesses at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing last week said they supported federal legislation as at least part of the solution for cutting the mountain amount of unsolicited commercial email Internet users receive.

Committee Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said he hoped to engineer a vote on an anti-spam bill on the Senate floor before August. "It's clearly an issue that needs to be addressed one way or another," McCain said.

Proponents of a national anti-spam law, including the Direct Marketing Association and large e-mail services such as Yahoo, argue that a patchwork of nearly 30 state anti-spam laws make it difficult for any one state to enforce its anti-spam law. A national approach, they argue, would create uniform rules for e-mail senders to play by and would put more U.S. government resources behind the fight against spam.

"The volume of spam today really has the potential of poisoning the medium, and doing it in a real hurry," said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has cosponsored the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act. "I'm absolutely convinced that if you bring a modest number of enforcement actions that are tough, that send a real message out there that there are going to be significant consequences, you change the world out there."

But a group of eight anti-spam and consumer groups have questioned all legislation currently before Congress. "There certainly does seem to be a lot of interest on Capitol Hill to get some legislation moving," said Ray Everett-Church, counsel for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE). "The problem is that I have yet to see a piece of legislation that qualifies as antispam."

CAUCE and seven other groups Thursday fired a letter off to four congressional committee chairman, saying the current crop of congressional proposals aren't tough enough on spam.

"At present, none of the legislative proposals currently being considered in Congress contain the measures we recommend; rather, they repeat many of the legislative mistakes that have exacerbated the unsolicited commercial e-mail problem, permitting it to grow to the epidemic proportions it has reached today," said the letter, signed by leaders of Junkbusters, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League and others. The full text of the letter is available at http://www.cauce.org/pressreleases/20030522.shtml.