Politics 80X: Politics of the Internet

SPAM

Can Federal Legislation Block Spam?

In May 1998 US legislators sought to move against spam by legislating the 'opt-out' model. It works this way: bulk email marketers must disclose their true addresses, and honor requests from recipients to be removed from their lists.

Notice how this tries to respect the concerns of four groups: mass marketers, email recipients, free-speech advocates, and internet service providers. [Free-speech advocates are concerned that non-commercial bulk mailing could be hindered. ISPs, on the other hand, don't want to bear the cost of bulk email.]

Is the 'opt-out' model a good solution? Some think it would not really stop spam. David Plotnikoff, a San Jose Mercury columnist, wrote that "the grass-roots Coalition Against Unsolicited Commerical E-Mail is also lining up against the new proposal, saying the requirement for a valid return address would be meaningless to kamikaze spammers who open accounts knowing full well they'll be booted the second the ISP gets wind of what they're up to." [SJ Mercury, 24 May 1998.] Mailers can switch to another address. So ISPs would still deliver bulk email. Email recipients must endure one mailing and take the time to ask that mailings be stopped.

Note that the Net's vulnerability to spam arises from its openness--a virtue. Does this mean that there is no broadly acceptable way legislation or government regulation can halt spam?