There was a time when opening e-mail meant reading a message from a friend or a welcome offer from a business, but these days it more often means hitting the delete button to get rid of those annoying junk messages called spam.
The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to crack down on the e-mail get-rich-quick schemes, pornography and sales pitches that clog inboxes.
"What was simply an annoyance last year has become a major concern this year and could cripple one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century if nothing is done," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
By some accounts, half of all e-mail traffic is now spam; costing companies $10 billion a year in lost productivity and equipment to combat the problem. Under the senate bill, spammers would face fines and penalties for disguising their identities, using misleading subject lines or other fraudulent pitches.
It would also set up a "do not spam" registry similar to "do not call" lists for consumers who wish to avoid telemarketing calls.
Direct marketers and even the Federal Trade Commission say the Senate bill is unenforceable and similar legislation is stalled in the House. The bill is supported by the major internet service providers. Most have developed software to filter unwanted e-mail but say consumers can use still another tool to block spam.