Brad Templeton Home

Brad Ideas
(My Blog)




Jokes / RHF

Photo Pages

Panoramic Photos

SF Publishing


Articles & Essays



The Book




RHF Home

Ty Templeton Home

Stig's Inferno

Copyright Myths

Emily Postnews


Burning Man

Phone Booth

Alice Pascal

The Rules for Guys

Bill Gates


Are you defending junk E-mail?

Are you defending junk E-mail?

Some people have read my writings on the issue of junk E-mail, where I have advocated that we use extreme care in how we regulate E-mail to solve this problem.

Because I've been opposed to the use of the strongest and most draconian weapons in the fight, including federal laws that make some single person to person E-mails unlawful, some people have been led to think I'm somehow supporting it.

Sadly, people sometimes view refusal to support a ban -- or their favourite type of ban -- on something as support for that thing. I ran into this a lot when I and 20 others, spearheaded by the ACLU, sued the U.S. Justice Dept. to get the "Communications Decency Act" overturned in the supreme court. Because we would not ban indecency the way they wanted, they called us champions and supporters of indecency.

Sadly there are people who think that anybody who isn't 100% in agreement with them must be against them. When I began advocating some of these principles in newsgroups devoted to some of the issues around junk E-mail, the more extreme members of those groups were enraged, and would answer with claims that I must be working for the spammers or the direct marketing association.

Of course that's not true. My mailbox gets 30 spam a day, and I got so annoyed that I wrote my own complex filter program just to block it. And I designed the wide variety of different non-governmental means to stop junk E-mail that you see on my pages. But so vitriolic was the reaction that even my longstanding reputation as a positive contributor to the net could not save me with some of the most vociferous.

This strong response, though not present from all (and much less present outside particular newsgroups) led me to prepare these essays to discuss the issue in more detail.

I had started writing essays about all the things wrong with spam and how to fix it, and I am bothered to instead have had to spend this much effort on other materials -- not to defend spam, but to criticise overzealous efforts by others which step over the bounds of acceptable regulation. Their efforts risk all sorts of more dangerous E-mail regulation, and sadly need to be stopped.

That's disappointing because most of these people have the best of intentions. (I stopped reading the true nutcases you find in every discussion some time ago.) They are deeply bothered by junk E-mail, and feeling powerless, call upon the government to regulate E-mail when they otherwise would never do such a thing.

It is for those people of good intentions that I have written these essays, to convince them that we must focus on a narrow definition that all can agree on, but which still covers almost all the problem and can be enforced to rid us of it. We most not step too far, and promote laws which will probably be unconstitutional, and will certainly be subject to a constitutional fight.

My principles are simple:

  1. Government regulation of E-mail is a dangerous last resort in this fight.
  2. Cheap bulk mail is the cause of spam -- and the solution lies there too. There is no need to specially regulate person to person E-mail of any type.
  3. It is our duty to regulate as little as possible. Some annoying E-mail will slip through the cracks, and that is as intended. A rule that punishes all the guilty almost certainly punishes some of the innocent too. A good law lets a few of the guilty through. We don't need to get rid of all annoying E-mail, just get it down to the level we can easily tolerate it.
  4. We should find a narrow definition that everybody agrees describes net abuse, even if it doesn't describe all of it. Then all can agree that it can be disciplined, and work together towards that.
  5. Mail between parties that know one another can be annoying and abusive, but it's abuse of the relationship, not of the net.
  6. The strong principles of freedom of speech of the USA's "1st amendment", while only binding on U.S. governments, are also good principles for any global network and its regulation of communications within it.