Anti Anti-Spam?

The legal issues surrounding junk e-mail detection and removal continue to discourage internet service providers from employing pro-active filtering techniques. Many ISPs are concerned about being sued for filtering false-positive (incorrect) "junk" e-mail messages in compliance with the various anti-spam regulations currently under consideration in the United States.

Service providers are placed in a difficult situation. Brian Gillette, creator of trimMail Inbox, notes with concern that "If I'm an ISP and I stop a $150,000 equipment sale because I decided it was spam, I'm in for a lawsuit."

But spam is becoming a major problem. According to Radicati Group (in their report 'Anti-Spam Market Trends, 2003-2007,' February 2003), unsolicited mail will comprise 45% of all electronic mail sent this year. Howard Beale, spokesperson for the Federal Trade Commission, commented at a hearing on the proposed legislation that, "spam threatens to destroy e-mail."

However, the new laws are criticised as preventing truly anonymous e-mail. I think commentators are missing the point when they say this threatens the ideal of an anonymous internet (and question whether this ideal is actually good at all). People who don't want to make their identities known can easily subscribe to a free web-mail service and use that to send their messages (which are usually limited to a reasonable daily limit), while those who have no problems with divulging what is, in reality, only their IP address, have a way to track down people sending many thousands of e-mails. Of course, to work effectively any anti-spam system needs a federal-level authority - an institution these bills fall short of creating.

Several of the bills currently under consideration would make it illegal to mask a sender's identity or forge routing information, both of which are tricks used by spammers to avoid the ire of those who receive their e-mails. But it's also a tactic used by dissidents in countries with repressive governments who want to communicate with like-minded individuals.

Sounds a bit far fetched to me. If a small minority wish to communicate freely, use Hotmail. Oh wait, nevermind. Of more concern are the bills' violations of a founding principle of the internet: information should flow freely and without censorship. If mail is filtered at an ISP level, it takes individual choice away from users, and is a potential violation of their service agreements.

But I digress. The bills are a step in the right direction, and better than nothing when it comes to politics. Forgive my cynicism, but the most probable reason politicians are so interested in pushing these bills in the first place is because they receive so much spam themselves.


You insensitive clod! I don't get any spam!

After posting your e-mail address in plain text, you will now... :-)