SAN FRANCISCO — The federal Can Spam act will be “a total failure,” legal Internet authority Lawrence Lessig told an audience of Internet service providers, email service providers and spam-blocking companies at the National Spam and the Law conference in San Francisco Thursday.
Lessig, a Stanford law professor, said the act won’t stem the tide of spam, variously estimated by the event’s 12 speakers at 55, 60 and 77 percent of current email transmissions. The act became effective Jan. 1, setting in motion the first national standards for sending bulk unsolicited commercial email.
“The resources we have to enforce the act are modest,” said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer in the keynote speech. “My budget was cut 22 percent in the last four years.” Lockyer asked audience members to help by reporting abuses, to share anti-spam ideas, and to volunteer to help the fight..
Most of the 100-plus audience members attended the conference, held by the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy (ISIPP), to learn how to comply with the act. About half identified themselves as commercial mailers, some one-fifth as ISPs, and a brave two self-identified as spammers.
“We’re trying to get a sense of the trend in law enforcement for spam. We want to make sure that what they’re saying is what we’re doing,” said Michael Ellis, privacy manager for online dating service Date.com. “We want to make sure we’re sending email to our members properly.
“We’re all kind of anxious,” Ellis confessed.
Many of the speakers – nine out of 12 were attorneys – addressed specific Can-Spam rules and compliance in workshops covering such topics as “What Existing Anti-Spam Laws Mean for You,” lead by John Praed of the Internet Law Group.
“The presentations have been helping,” said Eric Weaver of ISP Telecommunications Engineering Associates. “We’re just making sure we’re on a sound legal footing.”
Another issue that surfaced was whether Can-Spam compliance is enough.
In a lively discussion during a presentation by marketer Guy Kawasaki, CEO of Garage Technology Ventures, the consensus appeared to be it isn’t.
“Even if it’s legal, there are effects that can hurt you,” Kawasaki asserted. “If Nordstrom started sending out perfectly legal email, we’re discussing the effect on Nordstrom versus whether Mr. Nordstrom will go to jail,” said Kawasaki, a Mac Evangelist in the mid-1990s, who spread the word about Apple computers.
“If Nordstrom sent spam to all its credit card holders, in two weeks their name would be on spam blockers’ lists and they would have killed email as a channel,” an audience member pointed out.
Michael Grow, of law firm Arendt Fox, was hailed by Anne Mitchell, the event coordinator and president of ISIPP, as “the man who took down [spammer] Sanford Wallace.” Grow presented a history of anti-spam laws. One of the first attorneys on the spam scene, Grow successfully prosecuted Wallace and CyberPromotions on behalf of America Online.
Michael Goodman, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) attorney who spoke at the event, refused to comment on what action the agency will take against spammers in the immediate future.
“It’s too soon to tell what will happen,” said Goodman. “Any kind of enforcement under the act will take time. In terms of who’s first on the list, I’m not at liberty to say.”
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