Local Internet users say anti-spam law not working

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Even a year after the nation's first law was passed to curtail junk e-mail, it's still "delete, delete, delete" for Cape Girardeau resident Nathan Cromwell every time he logs onto his Internet e-mail account.

"It just keeps getting worse," said Cromwell, who spent Monday afternoon at Grace Cafe checking his e-mail, which he estimated 90 percent of which was spam. "I got 80 messages and 65 to 70 of them were spam."

Cromwell is one of many Internet users and providers who were critical of the Can-Spam Act, which took effect Jan. 1, 2004, with the intention of reducing junk e-mail.

The law made it illegal to falsify the "from" and "subject" lines of e-mail solicitations. It also required senders of bulk e-mail to include a working "unsubscribe" link in their messages and to honor requests to be taken off their mailing lists.

The law doesn't allow individual e-mail users to sue spammers -- a point made by critics of the law -- though it did allow state attorneys general and Internet service providers to act legally.

But those locally had little good to say about the new regulations.

"I think it's totally useless as a law," said Dr. Anthony Duben, a professor of computer science and chair of the department at Southeast Missouri State University. "I just look at my own e-mail to know that. There are offers for medication, knock-offs for Rolexes to mortgages. It's not working."

Duben said the law is ineffective because e-mails are hard to track. He also said that software programs can infiltrate computer systems and take them over, using other people's computers to send out spam.

The law should be strengthened to make e-mail accounts more secure, especially those provided by Windows and Explorer, which he said are notorious for allowing their system to be "hijacked" by spammers.

"But I don't know of any movement to strengthen the law," he said. "You just have to have a good firewall and spend a lot of time deleting."

Meanwhile, ISPs say they're not seeing a decrease in spam, either.

"We still see 85 to 90 percent of all mail being spam," said Randy Black with Show Me Net, which has 3,700 customers in Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Perry and Scott counties.

"They're all coming from overseas," he said. When spammers are operating out of a storefront in Mongolia, he said, "there's not much you can do."

Nick Law with Big River Telephone, which has 8,000 Internet customers in the area, said they are also seeing more spam.

"We filter millions of spam," he said. "We got more than we did last year."

Law said that people should remember that when they click on a link or reply to spam, they are letting the sender know that it's a legitimate e-mail address.

"Even if they remove you from their list, it doesn't mean they don't collect your e-mail address and sell it to another spam company," he said. "It's only going to get worse."


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