March 2003  Volume 29, Issue 2
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Personal Technology With Stephen J. Harhai
A Modest Proposal On Spam
How can we deal with the people who trash our inboxes? Possible punishments and solutions.

My friend Ken and I were running along Cherry Creek, engaged in one of our favorite running distractions: discussing our cases. (Physical exertion hurts less when you think about something else.) Ken had just started telling me about his new case when I stopped dead in my tracks, nearly causing a four-skater pileup. "You're representing spammers!" I screamed.

He quickly assured me that his clients weren't real spammers, just some guys who got cut off from their Internet service provider because they sent a mass e-mail to people they thought had opted in to their mailing list. I grudgingly allowed that, under the circumstances, his clients might possibly be entitled to a defense. From there, the discussion quickly moved to the appropriate punishment for real spammers-the ones who fill our inboxes with trash every day.

Ken and I both agreed that the death penalty might well be suitable for spammers. However, we came up with a better punishment: Put them in a cell and make them read every word of every spam message ever sent. This would amount to life imprisonment-or longer. I admit there may be some question of whether this is cruel and unusual punishment … but I'm betting that even the Supreme Court is so disgusted with spam that it will see the justice in making these people eat their own garbage.

It's a Yucky Problem (Really)
To get the story on why junk e-mail is called spam, I went to the authoritative source, www.SPAM.com. Here's what Hormel (maker of the meat product) has to say: "Use of the term 'SPAM' was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which a group of Vikings sang a chorus of 'SPAM, SPAM, SPAM …' in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet."

Wait, what's UCE? It stands for unsolicited commercial e-mail. I've only seen it in print so I'm uncertain of the pronunciation. But my bet would be "yucky," as in "Ugh, I have a dozen yuckies in my inbox."

If your e-mail address hasn't been out and about on the Internet as long as mine, you might not get the 100 to 200 yuckies a day that I receive. Nonetheless, I'm certain that you get more than you want.

Can't Someone Outlaw the Larceny?
The problem has become so pervasive that some estimates indicate one-third of the total of all Internet e-mail messages are spam. It clogs up the available bandwidth, ties up expensive storage space on computers and wastes everyone's valuable time. It's theft on a very, very large scale.

What about the First Amendment? The First Amendment doesn't give rabid marketers the right to use a robot dialer to disturb your dinner, and it doesn't give them the right to use your Internet connection to bury the information you really care about.

Just for grins, I might actually be willing to let spammers transmit their garbage, provided that they use their real return addresses. Imagine spammers getting 27 million nasty-grams back every time they brewed up a yucky storm. The problem would be self-correcting.

The legal solution, though, is blindingly obvious: Require that spam have real header information. The bad boys would be out of business in a week. Or, why not a national "no call" list for spam, like the lists that many states have implemented for telemarketers? UCE is a serious problem that needs to be solved now. All it would take is some political will. Send your representative an e-mail. Or maybe 10,000 yuckies?

There's At Least One Good Weapon
Until the politicians get a clue, I've found an incredibly effective technology weapon to fight spam. It's called MailArmory.com, and it is available through my ISP and many others.

Now that I have this program set up, all my Internet-originated e-mail gets reviewed by MailArmory's extremely efficient spam filters before it comes to my mail server. I have gone from hundreds of spam messages a day to a couple that manage to sneak by the filters. MailArmory reports that 70 percent of the Internet e-mail directed to my inbox is spam. MailArmory also obligingly gives me a list of "questionable" messages so I can make the final decision about whether to receive them. This is saving me untold hours.

If spam is driving you crazy, check with your ISP about giving MailArmory a try.


STEPHEN J. HARHAI ( steve@harhai.com) practices family law in Denver, CO. He is the author of the Colorado Divorce Handbook site, www.COdivorce.com.