Unable to go toe-to-toe with the conservative wing of the General Assembly, Gov. Mark Warner has drawn a line in the sand against a new enemy ? spam.
This tact has, for the time being, turned most peoples? attention away from the estate tax and VDOT?s money problems. Warner?s spam attack even earned him a coveted place atop the Drudge Report on Wednesday with his photo and headline: ?Internet Spammers Risk Jail.? This headline was right above the headline: ?Iraqi prostitutes back on the streets after Saddam…?
Spam ? the term given to unsolicited e-mail ? is estimated to account for more than half the e-mail traffic on the information superhighway. It?s called spam, because like the meat, you just don?t know what?s in it. Opening spam messages exposes the computer user to offers for low mortgage rates, amazing sex pills, porn and a unique business opportunity from the son of the overthrown Nigerian oil minister.
Considering that close to two-thirds of e-mail traffic flows through Virginia, Warner felt it was a big deal that Virginia passed the latest in spam legislation.
The law makes it a felony when someone:
? Purposely alters an e-mail ?header? or other information that hides the electronic trail from sender to recipient; and
? Attempts to send either 10,000 messages within 24 hours or 100,000 in a one month period, or attempts to make money through these spam messages.
Violators will be subject to heavy fines and the forfeiture of assets. There is also the prospect of jail time.
The law will affect those sending spam from Virginia or through the Internet providers with Virginia operations.
The new law represents a firm stand against junk e-mail but will it work? We?re sure that the first arrest under this law will be highly publicized and a harsh penalty will be administered. But in the brief history of cyber space, the Internet ne?er-do-well has always been a couple of steps ahead of the long arm of the law. The current law will do nothing to catch spammers working off shore or in states and countries with no such provision.
Virginia?s law represents the rules for a single state. There are 26 other states with similar laws which creates a patchwork of laws designed for a common offender. The issue of eliminating spam is crying for federal legislation through some sort of interpretation of the Interstate Commerce clause.
Such a federal law may prove effective, but it would also pose unwarranted federal control over the Internet and a violation of free speech and personal privacy. Yes, spam is a nuisance, but is the fight against junk e-mails worth allowing Uncle Sam to exercise dominion over our computer files?
The new Virginia law might put a dent in the current problem of spam e-mails. A conviction under this statute will probably be enough of a deterrent to rid cyber space of a number of spam producing outfits.
But don?t hold your breath waiting for the complete elimination of spam anytime soon.