Spam, Privacy, and the Art of Free Speech

By Kaser, Dick | Information Today, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Spam, Privacy, and the Art of Free Speech


Kaser, Dick, Information Today


I know that we're all deluged with it daily. I know that we all hate having to delete it. But in self-defense, spam pundits are clamoring "free speech!" It's what those pesky telemarketers claim too.

As much as I hate people barging into my house to force their message on me, I'll concede that freedom of speech is an important concept we don't want to abandon for the mere sake of minimizing inconvenience.

In Europe, where the topic has been discussed heatedly, the issue is often expressed as one of privacy. And that's an important concept too.

The difference in how authorities on each side of the Atlantic are dealing with this is subtle. In Europe, you opt into distribution lists. In the States, you opt out. In other words, in Europe, you don't have to open your door to an unsolicited e-mail. In the States, you get to slam the door in the sender's face (which is also free speech).

Opting in or opting out only really affects the law-abiding e-mailers. Neither of these options in and of itself stops the true junk. Other laws can and should apply.

In the EU, new laws going into effect this fall prohibit a spammer from disguising his or her identity or giving a false return address. (I wonder if "Elton John" is aware he sent an e-mail this morning offering to sell me antidepressants? …

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