Virginia Spam Law Overturned: Doesn’t Matter

Hey, there’s been a lot of news floating around out there about how we’re all doomed to suffer from more spam because the conviction of Jeremy Jaynes (aka Gaven Stubberfield) for sending illegal spam was recently overturned.

What it boils down to is this:

  • This applies to the Virginia State Anti-Spam Law, not CAN-SPAM.
  • This law predates CAN-SPAM anyway.
  • As John Levine says, “For everyone except Jeremy Jaynes, this decision has little or no effect.”

It’s not a license to spam, by any means. The US Federal Anti-Spam Law, CAN-SPAM, is still out there and still in force. Bad guys will continue to be prosecuted under the federal law. ISPs and the FTC will continue to chase down the most egregious offenders.

Though, for the record, the court did get some bits of it irritatingly wrong. An excerpt from the court’s ruling states: [The law] would prohibit all bulk e-mail containing anonymous political, religious, or other expressive speech. For example, were the Federalist Papers just being published today via e-mail, that transmission by Publius would violate the statute."

I couldn’t disagree more. There’s nothing stopping a future Publius from signing up for an anonymous Gmail account, or a Blogspot.com blog, and explaining his viewpoints to the rest of the world, from his own anonymous soap box. Many thousands of anonymous inhabitants of the web do this every day, and it never was illegal, and isn’t now illegal.

That's nothing like what Jaynes did, however. His actions were far less noble. As an example, he was fond of doing things like forging the email addresses of unrelated parties into his spam runs. That’s more like writing your ex-girlfiend’s phone number inside the bathroom stall at your favorite watering hole-- you’re drawing complaints and harassment toward her. The same thing happens when you forge addresses into your email messages. Bounces go somewhere, but not back to the sender. They beat the snot out of whatever email system is being used by the unsuspecting owner of the falsely referenced email address. They draw spam complaints and threats to unrelated parties. It's an awful thing to be on the receiving end of, in any context. It's scummy, and it's (rightly) illegal.

But, as Quentin Jenkins of Spamhaus points out, “Considering that the vast majority of spam--over 90%--is already criminal due to its delivery via botnets, and that ISPs in the U.S. already are explicitly permitted to make spam-blocking decisions without recourse by the sender, Spamhaus expects that this decision will have no noticeable effect on most inboxes.”

I agree, and that’s why this adds up to a whole bunch of nothin'. Same as it ever was, as J.D. Falk says.

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