The first-ever federal law against spam took a step forward early November 22, when the House passed a bill slapping new limits on unwanted commercial e-mail that mostly mirrors the so-called "Can Spam" bill the Senate passed in October. But the House bill would also supplant several tougher state laws, including the new California anti-spam law due to take effect on New Year's Day, according to the Associated Press.

The House bill bars commercial e-mailers from hiding their identities with false return addresses or subject lines and, like the Senate version, includes a mandate for a "do not spam" list similar to the do-not-call list the Federal Trade Commission began operating for telemarketers.

One of the House bill's most powerful supporters was Microsoft mastermind Bill Gates, who called the bill a milestone against spam "and a major step toward preserving e-mail as a powerful communication tool," saying spam costs business in the millions every year and expose children and families to porn and fraud.

Congress could approve a final version between both bodies' bills before Thanksgiving, the AP said. The Bush Administration has supported anti-spam legislative efforts, though the FTC said after the House bill passed that legislation by itself won't cure the spam problem.

But the House bill, according to a joint statement by the Departments of Justice and Commerce, "will help address some of the problems associated with the rapid growth and abuse of spam by establishing a framework of technological, administrative, civil, and criminal tools, and by providing consumers with options to reduce the volume of unwanted e-mail."

The House bill passed with a whopping bipartisan majority, garnering only five votes against. "Now we can go back to looking forward to opening our inboxes in the morning because we'll have notes from our friends rather than herbal supplements and mortgage offers," said Rep. Heather Wilson (R-New Mexico). The senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell, called the bill a huge first step "in restoring consumers' control over their inboxes."

The problems with a do-not-spam list begin with the FTC's criticizing the idea and the Direct Marketing Association – which wasn't exactly crazy about the do-not-call list against telemarketers – saying it's "a bad idea that is never going to work." 

Perhaps typical of Congress, one influential lawmaker said legislation won't help with the whole problem, "but it's the first real step." That was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York). "The public is demanding something. It's going to happen. We're going to get it done."