Saturday, 25 October 2003
"Finally," I think to myself, "a possible move in the right direction in the War Against Spam." A California court has fined a couple US$2,000,000 for civil violations of the state's anti-spamming law. In addition, ten years of injunctions against the people and their company should keep at least one spam house out of our hair. California is posed to unleash a new anti-spam law on the first of the year, which "prohibits unsolicited e-mail advertisements sent to or from any California e-mail address, unless the recipient gives prior permission (under current law the recipient has to opt out), or has an existing business relationship with the sender. It also permits private individuals to sue spammers and collect actual damages, plus $1,000 per e-mail and up to $1 million per incident."

I'm tempted to say, "It's about time." On second thought, it makes me wonder if we might be trying to solve a technology problem by enacting new laws.

Spam sucks, and it costs money - real money. Anyone who pays for internet services is subsidizing the volumes of spam emails that are transported over the backbone every second. While California claims 40%, most agree that fully 75% of all email that traverses the Internet is spam - Pure, unadulterated junk marketing mail. Do you know anyone who likes spam email? I know I don't, and while I am not a big fan of legislating change, this is one area I have to think about. It might be one area where I can support some kind of restriction.

But what's the best route to take in solving the spam problem? Is this really a problem that's best resolved by passing laws prohibiting mass emailing? Or is this situation an indicator of a technology that needs to improve? It mean, email is inherently open and pretty insecure. I, for one, am a big advocate of keeping the Internet free from legislation and legal action whenever possible. That said, is it time to take a look at email technology and maybe find a better way to communicate, or is it time to place legal restrictions on how and when it's done? My fear is that these new laws will kill email as we know it, and that the protections we put in place today will eventually make this useful (albeit fairly insecure) tool a thing of the past.

There are already arguments about California's new law, and it's questionable as to whether or not it goes too far. In fact, chances are it will be fought out in the courts there before too long. I don't buy the first-amendment-violation argument myself, but I would not be surprised to see some pretty heated legal battles.

And now the U.S. Senate comes along with an anti-spam bill, with probably more problems than the California version. And it would render any state anti-spam law defunct. Great, you gotta love that. It includes penalties of up to (get this) five years in jail, and a possible do-not-spam list controlled by the FTC, and "companies sending e-mail would have to provide their lists to the FTC so they could be checked and the coverage would be far broader than the FTC's telemarketer 'do not call' list, which only covers sales calls to consumers. The spam-blocking list would also cover business-to-business e-mails and companies could put their entire domain on the registry."

We're all looking at this problem from the same perspective: We hate spam, and want to do something about it. The question now is, what and how?

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Saturday, 25 October 2003 14:29:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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