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Volume 68, Issue 143, Wednesday, May 28, 2003 


Government can't stop spam

Matt Bean
Guest columnist

If my e-mail inbox is to be believed, I am an ill-equipped man in need of a cheap source of Viagra and herbal ecstasy. It also seems I cannot manage my money and should refinance immediately. In spite of this, Iim still entrusted with safeguarding the wealth of a fugitive African princess. Additionally, did you know you can get your college diploma online for a small fee and without having to take any classes? It seems Iive been going about this "higher education" thing all wrong.

If any of this sounds familiar, you too may have had the wonderful experience of wading through dozens of spam e-mails each and every day. The influx of unsolicited e-mail keeps getting worse as time goes on, and now messages are arriving disguised as replies and forwards with the senderis name masked as a real person. Imagine my shock when one message, seemingly sent by one James Cooper with the innocent enough subject of "Hey, I have a question" ended up introducing me to a position I was, until that point, unaware the human body could contort into.

Spam e-mail is not merely an annoyance to you and me; it bogs down the very infrastructure of the Internet, sucking up huge chunks of the available bandwidth that is provided (and paid for) by large companies such as MCI. Software development firms and large corporations in general also have an interest in reducing spam, which some estimates peg as being as high as 60 to 80 percent of all Internet traffic. The sheer volume can cause servers to become unstable, creating nightmares for the office techies.

Finally, and most obviously, spam can clog the inboxes of corporate e-mail addresses just as easily as it can the ones we use at home, thus hurting productivity, and making every trip to the inbox seem like a wild safari with new, unseen discoveries waiting around every corner.

While you and I may not have much sway with the legislature, it is a safe bet that when Microsoft, MCI, or any other multi-billion dollar company sends its legions of lobbyists to Washington armed with Armani suits and a large expense account, those congressmen will listen.

Last Friday, the Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. This national law, if passed, would supercede all previous state legislation on the matter. It would require spammers to disclose their physical locations, mark pornographic messages as such, and ban the use of e-mail address harvesting "robots." These are all great ideas on paper, but they are completely unenforceable. Most, if not all, large spammers keep their servers and business locations overseas in countries known for providing refuge from United States inquiries.

The RID Spam Act has no basis in reality and is yet another example of Congress passing legislation on matters it has no knowledge about. The answer to the ever-increasing problem of unsolicited e-mails will only be found when the government wises up and hires some qualified consultants to help develop a real practical solution to the issue.

Until then, Congress is merely blowing steam and wasting time. Please excuse me; I have to go clear out my inbox again.

Bean, a junior university studies student, can be reached at


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