Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 168
Submitted to the Warrensburg Gazette for December 5, 2002

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon is proposing a “no spam list” similar to the “no call list.” Now, email is a very important part of my business, and I hate getting the hundred or so unsolicited emails (spam) I see each day; they clog my mailbox, waste my time and could cause me to mistakenly delete something important. Nevertheless, I see real problems with Mr. Nixon’s proposal.

The first problem is a matter of numbers. Many spammers are small operations. A single person operating from a home computer in Omaha can send out just as many emails as a large firm, at least until his service provider cuts him off. Capital outlay is minimal compared to the cost of setting up a “boiler room” with multiple phone lines and salespeople. Since there are so many spammers, it would cost the financially-strapped state a considerable amount to add the staff and infrastructure to track down and prosecute them. Then, there’s numbers on the recipient side; the proposal requires that every individual address to be blocked be submitted; many businesses have dozens or hundreds of addresses at their domains.

The second problem is jurisdiction. Many of these spams and scams originate from other countries. While Mr. Nixon may be able to reach that computer in Omaha, he’ll have a lot more trouble enforcing Missouri law against one in Lagos or Minsk or Shanghai.

The third problem is definition. As a business owner, I don’t mind getting the occasional unsolicited email relating to legitimate related business offers – as long as I don’t get a lot of copies. There is a risk of suppressing legitimate commerce along with the spam.

The fourth problem is technical. Spammers today disguise their addresses and use third party servers for a while, then move on. Complainants would have to be technically savvy enough to save all the information needed to file a complaint with Mr. Nixon’s office. Even then, while it may be possible to track down where a spam came from, the spammer is likely to be long gone. They don’t advertise on T.V. like Miss Cleo.

Recent news reports tell us that law enforcement has a hard time dealing with identity theft as used in scams against the credit cards industry. How, then, are they to address internet identity theft? Spammers disguise their identity by using someone else’s address and disguise their intent with misleading subject lines. While I would like to see action against this despicable sub-species of spammer (especially the ones that use one of my addresses), I don’t see much possibility from a practical standpoint.

My advice to our new State Representative David Pearce: don’t go for Attorney General Nixon’s proposal.

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