Re: Junk mail and rotting web (SPAM)

Michael S. Lorrey (
Mon, 01 Feb 1999 16:46:58 -0500 wrote:

> Alexander 'Sasha' Chislenko, <>, writes:
> > You don't prohibit things without warning. You tell people that since
> > this creates problems, from now on it should be prohibited.
> > If you poke me in the eye with a fork, which wasn't it's intended use,
> > you go to jail - and there are no problems with it.
> > There is a Robot Exclusion Protocol now that is followed by most
> > spiders, and could be officially legalized.
> > There can be a similar protocol for automatically collecting email
> > addresses from the usenet postings and Web pages.
> > If you tell in your page or posting in a standard way that you don't
> > want this email to be collected by any program, this desire should
> > be respected, just as your desire not to list your phone number, or
> > not to open your door to strangers.
> How can you make a rule which only applies to "automatically" collecting
> email addresses? Why should it be OK for me to do something with my
> own mind, but illegal if I amplify my mind's capabilities with a computer?
> If we continue to adopt rules based on this distinction, what will happen
> when people become able to augment their own minds?

Using automated systems to mine the net of email addresses of people you do not know and have never indicated an interest in knowing you or anybody like you, your company, or your product, nor has indicated any interest in your customers products is already illegal, it just hasn't been tested yet in court. All someone has to do is apply the old mail and wire tampering, fraud, and harassment laws to data miners and spammers.

The only reason these laws have not been applied by existing authorities is that the computer users who are annoyed by spam are not the types that like to use government intervention and are generally politically inept... The laws are already there to protect your privacy. If you want them enforced, all you have to do is donate a couple grand to the reelection campaign of a state politician, like a State Senator or State Legislator, and tell them how much you want these laws enforced on the spamming industry. They are already going whole hog to entrap pedophiles on the internet. It shouldn't take much to get them to do something useful like take out the spammers.

> Philosophically, it just doesn't make sense to forbid doing something
> automatically which is legal manually (especially if you are going to
> throw someone in jail for breaking this law). It is as bad as the
> distinction between doing things commercially versus personally.

You err in thinking that manually tampering with the mail or harassing people in person is legal.

> > Mass unsolicited mail can be considered everything that is directed
> > to a large group (> 500?) people that the author had no previous
> > contact with and/or who directly indicated that they don't want
> > any unsolicited mail and/or the message is unrelated to the topic
> > of the group's discussion (e.g., "Visit my porn site" message on
> > and/or have misleading titles (e.g. "thanks for
> > last night" with the text "Buy bricks from Smith & Co".)
> This is still going to lead to a lot of gray areas. If a stranger posts
> a message to the extropians list directing them to his for-profit web
> site, should he go to prison? Suppose his site is selling his book
> about transcendental meditation. Will his fate depend on whether this
> is sufficiently on-topic? Do we really want a world where people can
> go to prison for this?

I think its better than a world where we are free to hunt those people down and blow them away (no matter how much the thought thrills me), don't you think?

> Sending people to prison for having misleading titles on their message
> strikes me as a perfect example of what is wrong with this whole approach.
> You're looking at the spam you got yesterday and today, and saying,
> here's a rule which would make this one illegal; here's another rule
> which would make that one illegal; and you keep doing this until you've
> crossed them all off. This is a shallow approach to the problem,
> looking at the most superficial symptoms instead of the real issue.

Putting misleading titles on your email is tantamount to mail and wire fraud. Sending email which claims to promote one kind of website when it actually is linked to another type is also mail and wire fraud. If you don't know how serious these crimes are, then you haven't seen or read Grisham's book _The Firm_. If a spammer can be charged for every one of the thousands or millions of spam messages they send, then they will be spending a lot of time in prison (probably more than their entire adult life) and paying whopping fines. Just a few test cases need to be won to put a stop to this crap.

> > Such standards would be easily and unambiguously formulated and
> > enforced in a variety of ways. I think it will be done at some
> > point; the lack of interest in filtering software is that it's not
> > compatible with many clients, doesn't work with many services
> > (Web, Usenet, guestbooks, etc.) and takes money and effort to
> > buy and use.
> If there were really a demand for this kind of software, the market
> would supply it in both free and commercial versions. Your comments
> would apply to every piece of software. Email software takes money
> and effort to buy and use. Yet there is demand for it, and people do
> expend effort to install it. (Actually, some services, like hotmail,
> do offer spam filtering as one of their attractions.)

> The point is, the whole approach of criminalizing this behavior is
> fundamentally wrong. There are many technical solutions, and once
> the problem becomes important enough, these will start to be used.
> Throwing people in jail for sending out information is not the way to go.

Sure it is, especially when putting the burden on the victim is so onerous, especially in the personal liberties department.

Mike Lorrey