Spam Rage and Spam Laws

A Californian man has been charged with making repeated threats against a company who sent him unsolicited e-mail. Having been driven mad by not only my own spam, but also the perpetual spam attacks on our servers, I can't help but feel a bit sympathetic towards the fellow. Nevertheless, it's a tragic commentary on the state of the Internet, especially against the backdrop of impending legislation.

Of course, the company, one Albion Medical of Canada, claims that it never sent spam. Either Albion Medical is lying, or a few hundred other people, people who have posted complaints about Albion Medical in the news groups, are. Did we mention they don't list their phone number on their Web site?

There is legislation in the works in this country which would -- ostensibly -- make Albion Medical's actions illegal. It's called the CAN-SPAM Act, and it's already been approved by the House. If passed, this would be the first federal anti-spam bill in the United States -- but we're not sure that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, as many industry pundits have noted, the law is as full of loop-holes as the national Do-Not-Call law that went into affect earlier this year. I don't know about you, but I've received more telemarketing calls in the three or four months since my phone number went on that list than the entire previous twelve.

The CAN-SPAM Act allows the spammer to force the end user to go to their site to have themselves removed from the mailing list. This means that, to get off of their list, you will have wend your way though a maze of login screens, pop-up adds, and unsavory content. When you finally give up in frustration, it will be your fault, not the spammer's.

The law takes accountability away from the companies that hire spammers and enforcement away from state authorities. Though most spam attacks take place across state (and even national) boundaries, there is no way that the Federal Trade Commission can be expected to investigate and prosecute every spam attack.

To put the magnitude of the spam problem in perspective, alone has blocked over half a million messages in the past 10 days. This is only a percentage of the spam sent to our servers as the majority of our customers have not enabled spam filtering on their accounts. And we're just one ISP on the tip of Cape Cod.

The CAN-SPAM law does have a few redeeming values. The law would make it illegal for spammers to forge the "from" address of a message. It would also make it illegal to commandeer an ISP or company's servers (or a home user's desktop for that matter) for the purpose of sending spam. However, if the spammer breaks either of these rules, we (and every other company and individual connected to the Internet) have to contact the FTC.

Luckily, the law doesn't forbid the ISP and the end user the right to block unsolicited e-mail (yes, that was in question). So, for the most part, we can just go on living as we had before the law was enacted -- which will be of little comfort to the Californian man, who probably wishes he's just spent $40 on a decent spam filter.

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