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Face-off: The Can Spam Act

New federal laws meant to stop spam have earned mixed reviews. TechTarget's Mark Lewis says the Can Spam Act is half-hearted, while editor Sarah Lourie says it's a good first step.

They agree that spam is the most obscene four-letter word of the Internet Age. But they can't agree on how to fight it. TechTarget editors spar over the Can Spam Act.

Can the Can Spam Act

After a half-dozen years wasting our tax dollars and their time squabbling over an antispam bill, it seems that lawmakers could have done a lot better.

Have you looked in your inbox lately?

The Can Spam Act is a half-hearted measure that fails to sufficiently address the problem of unwanted e-mail. In fact, it has spammers in the United States and abroad chuckling and hitting the send button more often than they did before the law was passed. Recent stats from spam-filtering companies show no decline in unwanted e-mail since Can Spam took effect.

Look at the text of the law, and you'll notice a few key shortcomings. One of the major initiatives (or non-initiatives, depending on how you look at it) requires spammers to include a working return address so recipients can unsubscribe. As we all know, most of the time when you unsubscribe, you give spammers more ammo -- because you're verifying that your e-mail address is valid. Click that unsubscribe button, and you're sure to fall prey to a flood of salacious messages.

While this law does put some pressure on spammers in the U.S., it does not regulate the deluge of spam coming from overseas.

One of the silliest parts of this law has to be the mandate that makes porn peddlers use a warning label in the subject line. So does this qualify?
Subject line: WARNING: Naked women here!!!

Now, we all know that is G-rated, compared to many messages we get. The White House Web site says that the Can Spam Act "strengthens a cornerstone of the administration's agenda to help protect children against pornography." This law will hardly keep porn from our children's eyes.

In order for an antispam law to be successful, it needs to go "all the way." Businesses that really want to get their messages out should have to team with regulators to separate legitimate recipients from those getting spammed. Much like the "do not call" list works for telemarketers, consumers should have the ability to register e-mail addresses to keep from getting spammed.

Also, where are the financial penalties for spamming? If you tacked on a fraction of a penny as a penalty for each spam message, how many marketers would stop sending unwanted e-mail?

Can-Spam has the best intentions. We all agree that spam is out of control, hurts corporate productivity and is, at times, downright vulgar. But this law does not go far enough in defining what spam is nor in enforcing "civil" penalties for those who fail to comply.

Is Mark out of his spam-addled mind or right on the money? Sound off, and tell us what you think.


Can-Spam shows a 'can-do' attitude

By: Sarah Lourie, Assistant Editor

Sarah Lourie, Assistant Editor
Sarah Lourie, Assistant Editor

The Can Spam Act is not a cure-all, nor was it intended to be. It is, however, a good first step in the fight for the integrity of inboxes everywhere –- inboxes that founder on piles of spam every day. Dealing with the scourge of junk e-mail is annoying and a waste of valuable time. If you ask me, it's about time Uncle Sam went after spam with the same zeal in which Dr. Atkins went after carbohydrates.

The Can Spam Act went into effect on Jan. 1. The law outlaws senders from hiding behind phony return e–mail addresses and misleading subject lines. It also requires an opt-out mechanism for recipients, so they can remove themselves from the spammers' lists.

Critics feel that the law actually makes it easier for spammers to operate. This is simply not true.

The biggest criticism is that enforcing the law will be next to impossible. I agree that enforcement is the key to this law. Legislation was the first step. Enforcement needs to be the second. But it's not an impossible goal. The crackdown on illegal music-file sharing certainly hasn't been impossible. Once authorities bring a few high-profile cases, a pattern will emerge. Spammers will have to obey the law or face fines and possibly jail time. The Federal Trade Commission's strong support for the law, as well as the support of ISPs, will only help.

In addition, critics are off-base with their arguments that the "opt-out" approach doesn't always work. If an opt-out mechanism doesn't work, the spammer responsible for it is still breaking the law.

Finally, critics point out that some spammers are working abroad and therefore outside of U.S. legal jurisdiction. But spammers cannot avoid the law's reach by hiring offshore helpers. A person in the United States who hires an offshore spammer to send illegal e-mails is still liable. You are responsible for the work of the people you hire.

In the end, this isn't just a U.S. problem; it's a global one. Countries need to work together to stop spam. A number of nations have already established or are in the planning stages of implementing similar antispam laws. Italy has even gone so far as to outlaw spam altogether, not just regulate it. Of course, Americans probably cannot "do as the Romans do" because of the First Amendment and the issues of free speech. But just as Rome wasn't built in a day, canning spam won't happen with a single law. At least the Can Spam Act is a step in the right direction.

What's your take on Sarah's take? Sound off, and let us know if you think her argument is meaty or just spam and mirrors.

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