‘Weapon of Mass Distraction’
By Barry Shein
June 20, 2003
Although I agree with Dave Crocker that dumb solutions to spam are dumb and therefore shouldn’t be adopted, we also have to be careful that we’re comparing apples to apples.
For example, postal mail is, as Crocker describes, unidentified. You can write any origin address you like in the upper-left corner of a postal envelope and it will get delivered if only the recipient’s address and postage are correct. However, given the per-piece price of paper mail it’s unlikely anyone is going to send millions of people enough pieces to make it a true problem.Postal mail just doesn’t have the potential as a weapon of mass distraction like e-mail. The same goes for telephones. The telemarketer has to pay per call in most venues. There are also severe limits on the kind of equipment that can be attached to telephone lines for mass telemarketing and the number of simultaneous calls is limited by the number of outgoing lines the telemarketer has-another expense that scales with the problem. Finally, there are all those do-not-call-lists, which are actually enforced. Massachusetts, for example, offers the protection of such a list to all its residents at: https://www.madonotcall.govconnect.com
But telephony is somewhat more evolved in this way and still does not have the power to harass millions daily for (generic) beer money as spam does.
Spam is more akin to the marketeer who would mount loudspeakers on a vehicle and drive through your neighborhood at 3:00 A.M. blasting an advertisement. Or someone who would break into a TV or radio signal with his own broadcast or cable equipment in order to insert his advertisements.
Those analogies emphasize the base illegality of the spammer’s methodologies and demonstrate that we have managed to deal with such excesses without creating new threats to our constitutional rights.
As to Crocker’s analogy of grates and alarms protecting your home as a town becomes a city: I’ve often said that a measure of civilization is that I can have glass in my windows and still consider my vehicle or home reasonably well “locked up.” When someone forces me to board up my windows out of fear, the idea occurs to me that the hammer in my hand needs to be applied to the perpetrators rather than my window sills.
That’s about where we are with spam; desperate enough to begin considering draconian responses analogous to boarding up all the windows in our home just to feel safe.
What we need to do is go after the spammers themselves and stop cowering in the dark behind boarded-up windows.