I Don't See Anyone Dancing

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The word among anti-spammers is that "direct marketers are dancing in the streets over it." "It" is an anti-spam bill that's expected to become law now that it has passed the Senate and House of Representatives, though the House still has some minor changes to approve. Granted, marketers were cursing California state Sen. Kevin Murray for the past few months for getting a too-restrictive anti-spam law passed in his state. But that turned out to be a good thing, as it clearly was the driving force behind the Senate and House coming to agreement instead of putting the legislation aside for another year.

The California law, which would have gone into effect Jan. 1, made it necessary for Congress to step in. It would have created a multitude of problems, including banning ad-supported e-mail newsletters - something unintended, but uncorrected, by the bill's author. A national anti-spam law will overrule three dozen state laws and create one unified code for everyone to follow. Anti-spam activists contend that the new law will do more damage than if Congress had done nothing at all because it will encourage companies to send more e-mail. This will be hard to prove, but since spam is increasing every day I'm sure we'll be hearing them say, "I told you so," very soon.

Still, something needed to be done, especially with studies saying spam makes up 50 percent of all e-mail and costs businesses $10 billion a year in lost productivity, server space and software to filter out. On top of that, 15 percent of "good" e-mail is being silently sidelined as ISPs and companies tighten the noose on their spam filters. That's not good for anyone if we're to get beyond this mess of porn, cheap mortgage rates and sexual aid crud filling our in-boxes. The law also will include a provision requiring the Federal Trade Commission to recommend how to set up a national do-not-spam list even though the FTC has said such a list won't work because rogue spammers will simply ignore it. Just watch the fireworks fly if a spammer ever hacks into that list.

In the war against spam, there is no single magic bullet, otherwise someone would have used it by now. It's not legislation. It's not blocklists. It's not best practices. It's not technology. There will always be criminals who come along and abuse the system. But a combination of all of the above should make a difference. Here's to a start.

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