Friday, April 08, 2005

Stuff I'm reading

Here's some interesting stuff I've been reading, including a few off topic items and others on usual subjects:


Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Hopefully will deter others"

Yes, because, for example, harsh penalties have deterred others from drug use, drunk driving, stealing, and other crimes so successfully, huh? Nine years for a non-violent crime, the essence of which is to send a piece of commercial communication that would be legal if it came in your snail-mailbox unsolicited, seems like a troublesome precedent to me on several levels, though naturally I hate spam, too, and as I said, I certainly find the idea emotionally satisfying. Let me know how much your spam drops off now, though. I'm guessing it won't, but would be happy to be proven wrong.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I should clarify: looking again at the clip, the guy convicted was engaging in fraud, selling sham products. That clearly should be punished with prison. A nine year sentence merely for spamming on legitimate products, to me, though, would be too much.

Steve Bates said...

I receive a modest amount of spam. Despite having good spam filters both server- and client-side, it takes me perhaps 5 minutes a day, including Sundays and holidays, to identify and delete it. That's about 30 hours a year that I spend dealing with spam.

Look at it another way. I read that the fellow who was convicted sent about 10,000 spam emails over a period of a few days... three, if I recall. Surely this was not the first time he spammed. Assume he spammed more or less continuously, a not unreasonable assumption. That's more than 1.2 million emails a year. Assume it takes someone 10 seconds to identify the mail as spam and delete it. That's roughly 3380 person-hours per year wasted deleting this man's spam... about 141 days of human existence consumed, completely wasted, every year, by this fellow's actions.

I agree with you that the sentence (based on the spamming and not the fraud) was excessive and inappropriate. I'm into prevention, not punishment. The man should have been sentenced instead to avoid any use of the internet for a year or two. If he ends up flipping burgers for a living in that period, I'm afraid I won't shed a tear.

(FWIW, I'm a long-time ACLU member, with all the usual stuff that implies. And I really admire your blog.)

Steve Bates
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thane, you wrote: "just because I may never be able to point out a report that shows a reduction in spammage as a result or punishment ... doesn't mean punishing spammers isn't just or have a worthwhile deterrent factor."

Actually, if that turns out to be the case it would mean exactly that it didn't have a "worthwhile deterrent factor." Deterrent means it keeps it from happening -- if it doesn't, it wasn't a deterrent. Incarceration is not a great way to change behavior -- not even for the person incarcerated and certainly not from those who are supposed to learn from their example, IMO.

Oh and Steve, thanks for the kudos. I have pretty good spam filters too, still waste time deleting the crap (probably not five minutes per day, though - realistically maybe two), and I'm no fan of spammers. On the other hand one could do a similar aggregate analysis showing how spam (especially if you include its snailmail/junkmail counterpart) creates thousands of jobs from the services and products sold and had untold positive economic ripple effects. It's easy to impress when extrapolating to such large numbers, but it's all relative.

Sending unsolicited advertising has always been a First Amendment right in this country, and for good reasons. Spam is a calamity and we need preventive measures to deal with it, but I'm not willing to toss out the underlying constitutional principle that allows it to occur just because someone is abusing it, any more than I support banning the manufacture of box cutters because they were used to hijack airplanes. We need more creative approaches.

BTW, I'll freely grant that I'm a bit of a First Amendment absolutist on this. I feel the same way about restricting campaign contributions -- I'd rather live with the problems and preserve the First Amendment. I also recognize, though, that those aren't common positions among liberals and others, naturally, may have different priorities. Best,

Steve Bates said...

"Sending unsolicited advertising has always been a First Amendment right in this country, and for good reasons. ... We need more creative approaches." - gritsforbreakfast

It's funny; I usually find myself arguing your side of this issue!

I agree that the purposes of the First Amendment are best served when everyone has the right to say anything to anyone, pretty much without restriction. I am relentless in saying that the medium of speech does not matter to the First Amendment right applying to it: you can say it to my face or you can spam me; your rights are the same.

That said, that First Amendment right does not include a right to be listened to and understood, only a right to speak. Spam forces the recipient to read at least the subject line, and sometimes more, to determine if it is spam. That wouldn't be a problem except for the quantity. While I receive perhaps three or four snail-mails a day, I receive typically more than a dozen spam emails.

The reason spam exists is pretty obvious: the cost to the sender is almost zero, the transport mechanism is paid for in large part by the recipients, and one needs only a microscopic response rate to make it profitable. How would you feel about laws which, rather than attempting to prohibit spam, instead raised its cost to the spammer? Yes, I realize there are problems coming up with a fair mechanism that avoids, e.g., penalizing companies for bulk mailings to established customers. I'm just curious what you think of such a fee or tax from a civil liberties standpoint. I don't have an a priori position; I'm still thinking it over.

Steve Bates
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Vis a vis a fee or a tax, I'm not a lawyer but I suspect you may find constitutional problems. However, the Supreme Court has said government can regulate time, place and manner of speech, within limits, to effect other policy goals, e.g., protests at a university can't keep it from educating students, etc. I haven't thought it all through, either, but it seems to me there may be room for regulatory instead of criminalizing approaches, as has occurred with no-call lists for telephones. Stiff fines for abuses might get you where you want to go. I'm definitely not pro-spam, I just don't want to set precedents tossing out the First Amendment getting rid of it. Plus, independently of that, I'm against long prison terms for non-violent crimes. It really sounds like you and I, Steve, aren't far off at all. Best,

Steve Bates said...

GFB, you probably already know this one, but just in case...

"I happen to be a First Amendment absolutist who believes in the right to free speech with no exceptions. All right, I'll admit that I'm on record as advocating that people who show other people slides of their trip to Europe should be arrested and put in jail for a very long time. We all have our limits."

Calvin Trillin, Columnist, 1997

(Via the Thomas Jefferson Center.)