Joe Lavin

February 10, 2004

Add Length to Your Jail Term!


After almost six weeks of the Can-Spam Act, I'm sure you're all happy that Congress finally decided to legislate against spam last fall. Since the law went into effect on January 1st, you've all probably noticed, well, pretty much nothing. Unfortunately, we all get just as much, if not more, junk mail than we did before Congress became involved.

It's not surprising, of course. At the time, most spam experts --- and how do you get to be a spam expert anyway? -- predicted that the law would have little effect. As usual, Congress passed the law to make it look like they were doing something when there was really nothing they could do. Now that they've passed spam legislation, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they pass legislation to outlaw rain, stupid people, and wardrobe malfunctions as well.

This bill was designed to outlaw "deceptive e-mail." What exactly constitutes "deceptive e-mail?" Don't worry. You can still lie to your boss about why you need to take a sick day. This bill will simply outlaw "commercial" e-mail that is deceptive. Authorities estimate that deceptive spam now accounts for two thirds of all unsolicited e-mail, which just goes to show that authorities are a lot more gullible than one would expect. Only two thirds? Apparently, authorities actually believe one out of every three pieces of spam that they receive. No wonder the spammers are still in business.

The bill will also create a do-not-email registry. Just send in your e-mail address, and the spammers will never send you another piece of junk mail ever again. Where have I seen that before?

Junk mailers are prohibited from sending spam with deceptive subjects such as "Re: Your Request," "Here's the information you asked for," or "Joe Lavin's Humor Column." Other no-nos include falsifying return addresses or selling fraudulent products. Under the bill, spammers would also be required to label explicit e-mail accurately in the subject line so that we can filter out the messages. Frankly, this seems unnecessary. A quick look at my Deleted Items folder reveals that spammers already do an excellent job of labeling adult e-mail accurately. Perhaps a little too accurately, if you ask me.

The penalty for all this is actual jail time for spammers, the prospect of which delights just about anyone who has ever had an e-mail account. First time offenders will get up to one year in jail. Repeat offenders will get up to five. For the sake of the spammers, let's just hope that the prison community doesn't despise spam quite as much as the rest of us.

Despite all this, the bill has accomplished almost nothing so far, and few think it will in the future. Faster than you can say "offshore," spammers are adjusting to the law. Still, Congress obviously thought it was time to take action. After all, the people have spoken. They've probably e-mailed as well, but unfortunately nobody saw their e-mail because of all the spam.

The final vote in the Senate was 97-0, which would have been impressive except that there's no way any Senator would ever vote against a bill like this. How would you like to be the one Senator who voted against the anti-spam bill? Just imagine the possible campaign commercials.

"Stan Simon, the man who voted for spam. Do we really want six more years of spam and Stan?"

You especially have to feel bad for those three Senators who were in the bathroom or wherever when the final vote occurred. Here was a simple way to win the support of the public, and they couldn't even bother showing up. For the record, the three who abstained were John Edwards of North Carolina, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, and John Kerry of Massachusetts -- two of whom are running for President. Senators Edwards and Kerry, I think we might be hearing about this some more.


©2004 Joe Lavin

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