Spam and Anti-Spam Legislation

One of the most tangible manifestations of society's information glut is the inundation of unsolicited e-mail also known as spam to our inboxes.

A look at some statistics:

  • Spam is estimated at more than 25 million emails per day -- or roughly 10 percent of all email world-wide (Associated Press, March 30, 1998)

  • As much as 30 percent of the email on major ISPs such as AOL (New York Times, March 19, 1998) and Mindspring (Internet Week, May 4, 1998) is spam.

  • On any given day as much as 50 percent of a typical email account is unsolicited advertising (Internet World, December 1997).

  • Netcom estimates that approximately 10 percent of its customers' monthly bill is devoted to fighting spam (Internet Week, May 4, 1998).

  • 33.7 percent of ISPs reported system outages caused by spam (CIX/ILPF survey, June 1998).

  • Subscribers to the cable modem service @Home had trouble receiving their email for three days as a result of a spam flood that disabled its servers (CNET's The Net, February 25, 1998).
pie charts, they're great

In 1997, the first anti-spamming law was passed in Nevada. The law required spammers to identify themselves and provide the recipient with an "opt-out" method. States including as California, Washington, Colorado, and Virginia have also adopted anti-spamming laws. Currently, several Congressional bills are also being considered to combat this ubiquitous problem. In the 106th session, the following anti-spam bills are being considered:

  • The E-Mail User Protection Act of 1999, which would make it a crime to send unsolicited commercial e-mail under a false name, IP, or domain name. It would also make it illegal to spam a user who chose to opt out of the sending.

  • The Internet Freedom Act of 1999, which includes a provision in Section 104 to protect the user from unsolicited fraudulent e-mail, i.e. e-mail that conceals its sender or gives a fake IP address or domain name.

  • The Can Spam Act of 1999, which would allow the ISPs to sue spammers who violate the ISP's policies. The ISP would be able to sue for $50 per message or up to $25,000 per day for damages. It would also make it a crime to illegally use another person's domain name to send unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The need for both state and federal legislation to regulate spam mail clearly reflects the increasing social frustration with the information glut.