CAN-SPAM Act is Five Years Old

December 17, 2008 at 6:53 PM (Uncategorized)

The CAN-SPAM Act is now five years old.

Let’s all check our inboxes real quick. I’ll wait.

Yeah, thought so.

I’ve just read a three-page article with the title of CAN-SPAM: What went wrong? Well good God, I can answer that and I don’t need three pages to do it.

1) CAN-SPAM has an unusually accurate name (unlike, say, the PATRIOT Act). It formally legalized the sending of unwanted promotional email (ie., spam), provided the sender put a valid contact address in it. It told email spammers that “yes, you can spam”.

2) It did not prohibit sending emails to people who have not “opted in” to receive them. Spam is, by whatever definition you prefer to use, promotional email that you did not ask to be sent. I’m sure this seems like a bizarre concept, but when you act to outlaw something, you have to actually outlaw it.

3) Spam is an internet problem. The internet is international in nature and cannot (and should not) be regulated by the United States government. Even if we somehow actually managed to prevent all spam being sent from within the U.S. (or more specifically, from Florida), what does that accomplish? A spammer living in Prague is not the least bit impressed by the disapproval of an American senator.

It would be bad enough if this were just a symbolic, toothless law. Unfortunately, not only is it entirely ineffective, it made the situation worse by legalizing spam (provided there’s a valid address somewhere in it) and by legalizing the sending of promotional email to people who didn’t ask for it.

Neither of these activities had any legal status either way before CAN-SPAM. It was a gray area that gave you leeway to take action. Some people used to sue spammers regularly, before CAN-SPAM arrived and gave spammers legal cover.

That article says that the amount of spam has increased by a factor of ten since CAN-SPAM passed. *I* say that CAN-SPAM is responsible for quite a bit of that increase. Not only did it fail to fix the problem, it actually legalized the problem and made it worse.

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