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Battle Lines Against Spam

May 10, 2003

Re "Put a Lid on Spam," editorial, May 1:

Though you hit the nail on the head in terms of identifying the problem, I'm sorry to say your recipe for a spam solution will only serve to fall in line with the America Online and Microsoft goal to legitimize spam as an acceptable means of advertising. For openers, California doesn't need to follow Virginia's lead when it comes to creating a tough "opt-out" law on spam -- we created a similar law in 1998. The fundamental problem with the "opt-out" approach is that every spammer gets to send the first slice free. Even worse, when you try to opt out, you're basically flashing a neon sign to the spammers, letting them know they've reached a live e-mail address.

Spam isn't legitimate advertising and it's not free speech; it's basically high-tech junk faxing that forces e-mail users to pay for someone else's advertising campaign through slower computer service and higher Internet access fees. Spamming costs American businesses an estimated $8.9 billion a year, and by 2007 the average e-mail user will have 3,900 pieces of spam dumped into his or her in-box. If we want to get serious about stopping spam, we need to switch to an "opt-in" system, much like we have with fax advertising, to require companies that want to send you an e-mail ad to get your permission in advance if they don't already have a business relationship with you.

I am the author of SB 12, which would ban unsolicited e-mail advertising, unless there's an existing business relationship between the sender and recipient, and ban the sale of lists of e-mail addresses to be used for spamming. Any Californian who receives spam would be able to sue the sender and the company whose products or services are being advertised in the spam for $500 per violation.

Sen. Debra Bowen

D-Marina del Rey

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We're not going to make a dent in the volume of spam clogging the Internet until Congress and states pass laws banning unsolicited e-mail advertising altogether. California and many other states have laws permitting spam as long as it carries an "ADV" (advertisement) label and an "opt-out" method, such as a valid return address, so people can get off marketing lists. Spammers have been ignoring those laws for years, so copying an ineffective state solution at the federal level is a waste of time.

What we need are strong "opt-in" laws that force marketers to get consent or to use e-mail only to market to existing customers. And since the spam game is "catch me if you can," we ought to let anybody who receives spam -- not just government agencies -- track down and sue spammers in court.

Beth Givens

Director, Privacy

Rights Clearinghouse

San Diego

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I regularly receive "Latte," an e-mail from The Times about what's new on its site. Some might classify this as spam. Is your editorial advocating that a governmental agency determine whether Latte is spam? When I opened my e-mail today, there were 63 e-mails that came in over the last eight hours; seven were not spam. How do I know? I use a program called Cloudmark that determines what is spam and what isn't. The program isn't perfect, but it allows those things (such as Latte) to be classified by me as real e-mail and not spam.

The solution to spam is not having the government regulate the Internet but rather utilizing the genius of the free-market economy to find solutions that do not curb freedoms.

Craig B. Coogan

Los Angeles

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