Controlling Electronic Intrusion by Unsolicited Unwanted Bulk Spam

This article deals with the "Spam menace," a problem largely unique to the digital medium, engendered by the ability to anonymously send a message to a huge audience with minimal cost and time investment.


To pare down, the author focuses some terms:

  1. He will address "legitimate" spam - excluding messages that are fraudulent or instances in which the target address was not obtained voluntarily.
  2. The "right to privacy" will be discussed in the sense of the right to be left alone, to not have one's attention intruded upon without permission or good cause
  3. He also makes a distinction between unobtrusive marketing (billboard, print, and television ads) and intrusive marketing (junk mail, telemarketing, door-to-door sales) and classifies spam among the latter.

He mentions that there are also significant financial impacts to the "spam menace" in terms of the cost of transmitting and storing the data over the network, plus the cost and time involved in implementing and maintaining solutions to filter messages of spam, plus the consequences of legitimate communications being misidentified. These issues exist, but are not his focus.


What constitutes "spam" is in the assessment of the recipient. If a message is willing to receive a message, it is not spam, but "ham" (legitimate communication).

Senders can avoid spamming by limiting messages to recipients that have actively requested to receive them, by the terms of the agreement into which they entered, and until such time as they request to no longer receive them. Anything else is spam.

The author suggests a "no-spam" directory, similar to the no-call lists that telemarketers are compelled by law to use. He doesn't go into detail. He also recommends legal infrastructure to hold senders to the terms of their agreement: to compel the use of opt-in marketing (actively - no passively neglecting to do something to opt not to participate) and react against violators.


Naturally, the call for legal involvement is problematic: since the Internet is a global medium, jurisdiction is problematic. Individual governments and coalitions do not have the authority, and violators can easily find safe haven in a country where there are no laws or where enforcement and prosecution are lax.

Internet Service Providers

The ISP that provides access to an individual or company that sends unsolicited mail seems to be a natural place to begin, as they are in the best position to exercise preventative control. While they are fewer than spammers, there are still a large number, located around the globe.

The drawbacks to this are that it places an undue burden of expense on the company and requiring the company to monitor communications has the potential to infringe on the privacy of its users. Further, they are often required by law to provide service to anyone who requests it and cannot discriminate for any reason (including past misconduct).

On the other hand, there is some legal precedence for requiring ISPs to monitor and control content (Such as child pornography), though the legislation is so vague and poorly worded as to have no real meaning or power, nor is there any effective enforcement (to date, no ISP ahs been successfully charged for failure to comply).

The author has a handful of suggestions:

EN: These seem interesting practices, though it's strictly voluntary, and ISPs often do the first three anyway. What's not mentioned is the potential problem with violating the right of the sender to contact whomsoever he pleases, which could be an issue if legitimate messages are blocked.


In most instances, commercial e-mail is sent with the goal of getting the user to buy something, and in that way each message can be traced to an advertiser (or the organization that stands to benefit from the purchase). It may be more effective, and certainly more practicable, to "follow the money" to the source of the spam, and target legislation accordingly.

EN: A novel and interesting idea, though he doesn't go into detail.

Empowering Targets

Targeted recipients "should be advised" of the technology and practices that they can implement to fend off spam, but there is insufficient regulatory and legal assistance.

Primarily, "spam" is currently treated as a petit tort, similar to trespassing or littering, and the fines that can be imposed are not worth the expense to investigate and prosecute instances. The author points to Virginia, in which a recipient is automatically awarded $500 per message from spammers, as a model for legislation that is both easy to interpret and enforce, though the problem of jurisdiction remains.

There is also the suggestion of the creation and maintenance of a central database of spammers by government, as opposed to an individual company or industrial coop, that has broader powers and more explicit criteria, and is better equipped to deal with the balance between recipients and senders respective rights.


The author recaps some of the points he has made. In the end, he really hasn't said anything new on the subject.