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Fantasy lawmaking


By Scott Bradner


Now that the season for fantasy football is just about over maybe it is time to find some other imaginary pursuits.  Imaginary pursuits tend to cost less and take less energy than real ones so they can be taken up with less commitment on my part.  In addition, sometimes doing things with one's imagination is the only way that they will get done.  Thus, this column about effective laws to limit spam has to be limited to imaginary ones.


There seems to be very little likelihood that the US Congress will soon, if ever, pass meaningful laws regarding unsolicited email.  They seem to be paralyzed trying to balance the right of some slime to shout obscenities in my ear and my right to close the door.  So far they seem to think that the rights of the slime are paramount and Congress has defaulted to an open (or nonexistent) door policy.


It is not that there is no reason to figure out ways to deal with spam.  Since September 11th there has been a significant increase in the amount of spam.  Over 90% of the mail to one of my email accounts is now what I classify as spam, unsolicited and unwanted, 6 months ago it was only 20%.  At this rate the power of Internet-based communication will be destroyed by people deciding that wading through the trash is not worth the few legitimate messages found and just opting out of email all together.


Some states have started to implement laws on commercial spam that the sender knows is destined for someone within the state. Non-commercial, for example spam expressing a political view, may be impossible to regulate under the US Constitution. California and Oregon, at least, have such laws which, so far, have been upheld in court.  But I'm not holding my breath for the US Congress to act, so here are some fantasy laws to fill the gap.


First I'd ensure that there was an opt-out list that people can put their names on, the spam industry could set it up or the government would do so if industry did not do so quickly.  Any commercial  spam sent to an address that had been on the list for more than 5 days would be a criminal violation subject to a fine of not less than $100 per recipient.  Spam that did not include an easy way to refuse additional messages from the company sending the email and the company the email is being sent for would be result in a fine of not less than $100,000 per mailing.  Spamers that used an opt-out request to validate an email address for future use would be subject to a fine of not less than $100,000 per incident, as would spam from a forged source address or knowingly sending spam to an email list instead of an individual.


Well, you get the picture.  Make it hurt to be slime. But now back to reality and a full mailbox.


disclaimer:  Reality is a frequent visitor to Harvard but the above is my own opinion.