Home > Uncategorized > The Spam Epidemic: Part 2

The Spam Epidemic: Part 2

Spam has reached such epidemic proportions that the need for a successful solution or combination of solutions has become critical. In addition to technical solutions (some of which I mentioned in my previous blog entry regarding spam), various non-technical solutions developed to address the spam problem exist. Most notably, legislative efforts to counter spam have been undertaken in a number of the larger first-world countries. The US CAN SPAM Act, intended to protect US consumers and commercial enterprises from unsolicited commercial email by prescribing fines and allowing civil and criminal legal action against spammers, is one of the best known of these efforts. Despite some rather serious loopholes in this legislation, several individuals have been charged, tried and convicted under its provisions. At the same time, however, the fact that spammers continue to abound and flourish despite the CAN SPAM Act’s provisions shows that (as critics so accurately predicted well before this Act was passed) anti-spam legislation can only go so far in curbing the flow of spam. For one thing, spammers outside of the US have nothing to fear as far as CAN SPAM-prescribed punishments go. Additionally, restrictions imposed by the CAN SPAM Act run counter to freedoms, particularly freedom of speech, guaranteed in the US Bill of Rights. Furthermore, anti-spam legislation is generally watered down because businesses often oppose restrictions against mass marketing efforts that have the appearance of spamming and thus do all they can do (e.g., through lobbying efforts) to prevent the passage of more stringent anti-spam legislation.

Anti-spam legislation has not, however, been a total failure in that it has been used as the basis for initiating civil lawsuits against spammers. Microsoft has, for example, filed scores of lawsuits against a variety of companies and individuals on the grounds that they falsified part or all of the sender identity information in email messages that they sent. Microsoft has won large amounts of money in some cases. Numerous states in the US have also passed anti-spam legislation that allows so-called “victims” of spam deluges to receive financial compensation from spammers. Accordingly, several plaintiffs have won varying amounts of money from spammers in civil cases based on such legislation. Still, civil action has also proven to be no panacea for the spam problem. Civil lawsuits against spammers have at least to some degree been hampered by the same problems that law enforcement has met in enforcing federal legislation, namely that spammers in countries other than those in which this legislation in is effect cannot be prosecuted.

If legislation is going to make a bigger impact in suppressing the incessant flow of spam, a much larger number of countries is going to have to cooperate by passing equivalent legislation. If this were to happen, there would be fewer “spam sanctuaries” out of which spammers could continue to operate with impunity. The challenge in the legislative war against spam is thus remarkably similar to the challenge in the legislative war against cybercrime—obtaining international cooperation. But the likelihood that a very large number of countries will develop and pass similar anti-spam legislation is very low. Additionally, law enforcement in these countries would have to create and abide by necessary international agreements and procedures, another very unlikely development. But “unlikely” does not mean “impossible,” and as such the ever-increasing toll of spam may eventually force countries into passing suitable legislation and entering into the agreements that may at least start to adequately address this nasty problem.

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