James Gleick: Tangled Up In Spam

James Gleick, New York Times Magazine:
Tangled Up In Spam:

As remote as an effective solution seems, the spam problem might not be so intractable after all. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 made it illegal to send unsolicited faxes; that law passed with strong backing from manufacturers of fax machines. It should be extended to include unsolicited bulk e-mail.

For free-speech reasons, any legislation should avoid considering e-mail’s content; trying to define key words like ”commercial” and ”pornographic” only leads to trouble. And it isn’t necessary. For that matter, even short of outlawing spam, two simple measures might be enough to stem the tide:

  1. Forging Internet headers should be made illegal. The system depends on accurate information about senders and servers and relays; no one needs a right to falsify this information.
  2. Unsolicited bulk mail should carry a mandatory tag. That alone would put consumers back in control; all the complex technological challenge of identifying the spam would vanish.

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