Editorial

More explicit spam

Monday, January 5, 2004

With the new year comes a new federal law regarding all that spam -- unwanted e-mail -- that fills the in-boxes of most typical computers hooked to the Internet.

The new Can-Spam Act has been called an anti-spam law, but in reality it is unlikely to cut down on anyone's e-mail trash. In the first few days of 2004, some e-mail users say they have seen a slight decrease in unwanted messages. But for the many e-mail users who each day have to deal with hundreds of spam e-mails, there has been hardly a dent -- if any decrease at all.

The new law's provisions doesn't make spam illegal, but it does place a number of restrictions on e-mail, including a readable subject line. This is intended to help individuals and companies to set up better filters to keep out unwanted e-mail.

A quick check Friday indicated most subject lines of spam e-mail messages were conforming to the new requirements.

Another provision of the law is that each e-mail must have a legitimate return e-mail address. The only way to test this, however, is to respond to spam -- something that only invites more spam, because it verifies that your e-mail address is being used.

While the new law gives federal and state authorities some teeth to go after anyone who ignores the new law's provisions, it doesn't offer much hope of shutting off e-mails from outside the country.

E-mail spammers are cunning. They use sophisticated software to harvest e-mail addresses and user names from address lists inside your computer. This is why so many computer users are hoodwinked into opening spam e-mail when it looks like it came from someone they know or work with. It's likely the spammers will soon find inventive ways to get around the new law.

If the federal government wants to really crack down on spam, it needs to ban it entirely. It should enforce efforts to be removed from a spammer's mailing list.

In spite of the new law's shortcomings, supporters say it will help curb some of the most harmful aspects of spam.

It's hard to believe anyone in federal government really believes having all the explicit words in the subject line of a spam from a XXX-rated Web site is a good thing, especially when children are the biggest users of many home computers.

Reaction to federal and state laws regarding telemarketing and junk mail has been positive. That's because they provide for being removed as a target of unwanted phone calls and mail. That would be a logical step for spam as well.

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