on AlterNet discusses many of the proposed legislative approaches to unsolicited e-mail.
You know, when you study fire fighting, you learn about the "Fire Triangle". A fire needs fuel, oxygen, and heat to burn. Take away any one of these, and you've put the fire out.
It strikes me that there's an analogy to unsolicited e-mail there. Spam needs three things to work:
- Internet Bandwidth,
- The Advertiser, and
- The Mark.
Technical solutions to the problem try to address the Bandwidth issue. Really, though, they're just masking the problem. No, you aren't seeing spam in your mailbox, but it's still out there, clogging up the fiber-optic arteries of the globe like a deep-fried Twinkie in your aorta.
Legislative proposals focus on the advertisers, who are notoriously elusive and often don't even reside in the local jurisdiction. They're tech-savvy and often try to block such legal actions with claims that they obstruct interstate traffic or even violate First Amendment rights. The core of the problem is, so long as one person in a hundred thousand respond to a given spam, the spammers are raking in cash. They'll find ways around the laws and the bans and have pricy lawyers trying to strike it down.
So far, nobody's tried to deal with the Marks, the Dupes, the Johns, the gullible twits who reply to spam. Barnum said that a sucker was born every minute; in the Information Age, that time has been cut to milliseconds.
So, here's a radical (and half-baked) proposal:
Why not aim the legislation at that side of the Spam Triangle?
Make it a crime to respond to unsolicited e-mail. Buy from a spammer, pay a fine. Three strikes, go to jail. Earlier, I used the term "Johns" to describe those who respond to spam, in reference to the slang term for one who patronizes a prostitue. In those backwards parts of the world where such activities are outlawed, the laws often penalize both the person offering the services and those purchasing them. The same principle seems applicable in this context.
Enforcing such legislation might prove both technically and ethically questionable, of course, but, hey. It's an approach nobody seems to have considered before.
Of course, an enterprising and computer-savvy individual could do a bit of Viglante Enforcement. Buy from a spammer, and your name, e-mail address, and what you purchased gets publically posted on the HTTP equivalent of the public stocks, so that people can pelt you with virtual rocks and garbage for Just Being Too Damned Stupid. Oh, and to mock you for that case of bargain-basement Viagra you just bought....
Mad Props to araquan for the Dreaded Deep-Fried Twinkie Stand.