Isn’t Spam Illegal?

Isn’t Spam Illegal?

Spam seems like it is everywhere. As soon as you think you have gotten rid of all of it, there’s another offer for some kind of prescription drug, a way I can save on my mortgage, or a distant family member in Nigeria who would like to give me a few thousand if I can just send him a couple of hundred bucks first.  In short, yes, spam is illegal, but the topic is a little more broad than that.

First of all, most of these offers are scams, but most importantly isn’t spam illegal?  Wasn’t there a law passed that prohibited people from spamming your email address the same way the no call list protected your phone?

In 2003, Congress passed the CAN SPAM Act.  CAN SPAM means Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. However, this law has been largely ineffective at solving the problem. 

The CAN SPAM act does provide some relief from spam, but it is generally from bulk email that is “commercial.” Basically anything that contains some sort of advertising for a product or service.  

CAN SPAM prohibits deceptive and fraudulent emails, requires that email senders allow those receiving the email to opt out, and that emails being sent for advertising purposes have a subject that informs the consumer what is in the email.  In most jurisdictions, you generally must tell the origin of the message, cannot use misleading information in the subject of a bulk email, or use software designed for creating an email that has false information.

Under Federal Law, only commercial spam is prohibited. Personal emails are not.  The only state to prosecute a person and attempting to ban non-commercial spam was the state of Virginia.  A jury from Virginia convicted Jeremy Jaynes who allegedly sent as many as 24,000 emails in a single day. Because of the first amendment, the ruling was overturned, as it was felt that the first amendment protected Jeremy’s right to free speech.

If you have a lot a spam in your inbox, you can report email abuse to the FTC or to state authorities.  If you are an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you can even bring your own lawsuit againstspammers.  Keep in mind however, that anti-spam laws only apply in the jurisdiction of the state or federal government.  All those emails that you are getting from South Korea, Nigeria, and China don’t have to follow laws in the United States, so there’s probably not much you can do about it.

There are two options to solving this problem.  First, you can block all emails coming from an ISP from outside the United States, but then you risk not receiving emails that are coming from a company with a server outside the US.  The other option, is simply to report the email as spam and delete it.  Unfortunately, other countries have not passed preventative measures to protect the worlds email users from spam.

The best thing that you can do to prevent spam is to use a reputable email company.  One such service that does a very good job of separating your emails is Gmail.  Gmail can intuitively decide whether an email is spam, junk, a promotion, social media update, or an email from a person that you want to read on a daily (or hourly) basis.




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