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Cyber-Rights: Spamming (unsolicited commercial electronic mail)


Spamming (unsolicited commercial electronic mail)

Nothing on the Internet upsets the average users so much as the torrents of junk email that fill their mailboxes. CPSR even maintains a special page on the subject. Several bills in Congress consider ways of stopping the mail, which are a burden to Internet service providers as well as users.

Several states have passed bills of various sorts outlawing unsolicited email. In theory, since programs culling email addresses from the Internet cannot determine the physical location of the address, such bills should lead to complaints by a spate of irate recipients and ultimately the demise of spamming. But clearly the laws have not had that effect.

The chairs of the House Internet Caucus plan on addressing spam in an omnibus Internet bill. CPSR has not taken a position regarding the bills, though former chair Jeff Johnson has written an article clarifying the free speech issues.

It is important to leave room for legitimate use of email for contacting new people. Over the past year, legislative proposals for controlling email concentrate not on the question of whether someone has a right to send mail (or a right to be left alone by others), but on the more manageable issue of helping ISPs protect their networks from the serious burden imposed by spamming. The most recent bill calls for a nationwide database containing email addresses of people who opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial email. This bill presents numerous questions, including those of privacy, the cumbersome difficulty of keeping an enormous list up to date, and the effect of legimitizing spam sent to people who don’t put themselves on the list.

An organization called the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email promotes laws against UCE, and various sites offer suggestions for effective personal action you can take.

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Last updated: October 27, 1999

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