June 23, 1998
Dear Rep. Tauzin,
The Web Sociology mailing list is an open forum for the exchange of viewpoints and ideas. It has become a true online community. As a community, it is open to all.
Recently, we had a spammer in our midst. He introduced himself innocently enough. However, without warning, everyone who had posted to the list in a three-week period received a junk email advertising a movie-review service.
We were outraged. It was a shock to see such a blatant disregard for the core of trust we had built over two years. Online communities are enclaves of trust without regard to geography. They are a refuge from the encroachment of marketers who gather our data and sell it as a commodity. Communities give us the chance to be human online. This was trespassing.
Of course, he was kicked off. Then another list member and I wrote to his ISP and got his account canceled. However, to the sociopath, this is neither punishment nor deterrent.
So why am I writing to you?
The most important legislative hearing to date on the question of unsolicited commercial e-mail ("spam") will be missing a very important viewpoint -- that of the internet user.
I am concerned that no organization representing the Internet community got a chance to testify with the last-moment addition of the Title III pro-spam amendment to S 1618. Organizations like the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE) and the Forum for Responsible and Ethical E-Mail (FREE) expected that you would allow their voices to be heard when you considered the same provision in testimony before the Commerce Committee on HR 3888.
Burying controversial provisions in complex legislation at the last minute to satisfy powerful interests is a common legislative technique. With all the pronouncements Commerce Secretary Daley is making to industry about the government stepping in to protect consumers' internet privacy, you might see the irony in putting pro-spam language into a bill without allowing internet community groups to testify in opposition.
Right now, ISPs do not have enough legal tools to put an end to spam because they are not legally empowered to take whatever action they deem necessary to deal with this problem. We feel this pro-spam provision would even threaten ISP's ability to enforce the policies they have now.
I would like to bring your attention to the innovative legislative approach being developed by the Internet Service Providers Consortium (ISP/C).
It states that after an ISP provides constructive notice to third parties of its anti-spam policies, anyone sending unsolicited commercial email to an address within that ISP's domain would be committing computer trespass, thereby entitling the ISP to recover $10,000 or actual damages, whichever is greater, along with attorney's fees.
With this approach, the government would not be issuing a new regulation, it would simply be empowering the ISPs to decide how to deal with this issue. The government would also remove itself from speech regulation, addressing First Amendment concerns. But most importantly, this approach gives teeth to the enforcement efforts that ISPs have already undertaken.
Rep. Tauzin, Internet community values are family values projected onto an online environment. Spam threatens the free expression of these values. We, the members of internet communities, depend on ISPs to be able to give us protection against spammers, and ISPs depend on you to provide them with the legal tools to do so.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration in this matter. We are looking forward to your response to our concerns.
Members of The Web Sociology List
(For the purposes of web publication, names of the 20 undersigned individuals have been excluded from this page.)
© copyright, 1998, Web Sociology List