Hit Squad on Spammers?

I’ve been clamoring for action on the spam front since 1996. I’ve even dedicated a web site to a primer on what spam is, how spammers get your address, and other topics (which recently got some updates).

Frankly, I can’t understand why spammers are allowed to live. Why hasn’t some mob figure ordered the bastards hit? Surely Tony Soprano is sick of his inbox being filled with junk and smut peddlers soliciting his children.

I’ve heard of one spammer being killed “execution style” awhile back; it astounds me that it’s not a weekly occurrence. That someone as reasonably level-headed as I feels this way says to me that there are plenty of (shall we say) less stable individuals with similar feelings that are, well, more likely to act on them. It’s amazing that dozens of them haven’t gone berserk.

There is also one recent case of a guy getting what the press calls “spam rage” who threatened a …um… “body part enlargement” company over all the spam he was getting. Charles Booher of California is the accused: his story is here. Yeah, he’s been arrested.

Anyway, speaking of criminals, the U.S. Congress has finally passed an anti-spam bill. For some analysis of their effort, take a look at what a couple of True subscribers have written. They’re too long to run here, so I’ll provide relevant URLs. The first is by Anne Mitchell, President of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy and a Professor of Law at Lincoln Law School of San Jose. Her summary is here.

Second is from Premium subscriber Dan Fingerman, who just passed the California Bar and wants to work in intellectual property law, especially as it pertains to the Internet, has analysis on his blog [no longer online].

Also, of course, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial email has something to say about the bill, most of it uncomplimentary.

What do I think? I’m cautiously optimistic, and that’s coming from a guy who suffers a lot from spam: my filters are stopping 700-800 per day to the several addresses on my server. Untold thousands bounce off now-closed addresses — and 50-100 more get through! I get complaints from readers almost daily that they can’t get the issues of True they asked for (or paid for!) because either their mailboxes are so stuffed with spam they bounce, or because their ISPs can’t tell the difference between spam and mail they want to get.

Well, the law could be a lot better, but it’s a start. When Congress saw how much Americans wanted action on junk phone calls, they got around to passing a law, and later the FTC finally got around to implementing a Do Not Call list. Once that happened, a judge called the FTC’s action illegal since Congress didn’t make it clear the FTC had the authority to implement such a list.

What did Congress do? It acted in record time to explicitly give the FTC that authority. If this new spam law doesn’t do what we want, we need to make it clear to Congress how to fix it, and demand that they act just as quickly. We can’t really do that until we see how this law does (or doesn’t) work. Just about any law is better than what we have now, but I’m sure it’ll need to be fine-tuned over time.

I’m not particularly interested in debating whether it’s a good law, though: my point here is to just call your attention to the progress. Online forums dedicated to the debate are a better place. Thus, I’ve disabled comments on this entry.

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And sure enough, the law was almost totally ineffective. Now and then a spammer has been prosecuted, but spam has both increased, and become more dangerous: bringing malware and more to unwary recipients.