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Virginia anti-spam law struck down

I actually think this is no big deal.

The Virginia Supreme Court declared the state’s anti-spam law unconstitutional today and reversed the conviction of a man once considered one of the world’s most prolific spammers.

The court unanimously agreed with Jeremy Jaynes’ argument that the law violates the free-speech protections of the First Amendment because it does not just restrict commercial e-mails. Most other states also have anti-spam laws, and there is a federal CAN-SPAM Act as well.

The Virginia law “is unconstitutionally overbroad on its face because it prohibits the anonymous transmission of all unsolicited bulk e-mails, including those containing political, religious or other speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Justice G. Steven Agee wrote.

I say this because I think this is an antiquated approach to dealing with spam. The problem of spam isn’t so much a bulk email problem as it is a fraud problem. Most spam is sent by identity thieves and other criminals. Who cares about how much mail they’re sending and the free-speech implications of it if they’re breaking existing laws? This strikes me as the right approach to take.

When a new spam attack occurs, the nation’s cyberdetectives call Gary Warner.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) computer forensics researcher, who spends much of his time collecting and analyzing thousands of bogus e-mail messages, is in demand these days. He gets calls from overseas investigators, he speaks at conferences and he’s working with federal law-enforcement officials to track down the root of the recent spam attacks pretending to be from CNN and MSNBC.

His goal is not to filter spam better, but to actually catch the criminals sending it.

“Spam is not a technical problem. We’ve been acting like it’s a technical problem. It’s a societal problem,” Warner said. “Why aren’t there more bank robbers? Because if you rob a bank, you go to jail. Why are there so many cybercriminals? Because they don’t get caught and go to jail.”

That’s the ticket. Find the crooks that are sending these phishing emails and stuff like that and bust them for some flavor of fraud or racketeering. Sometimes the old ways are the better ways.

One more thing:

Warner also wants to show the public how big a problem spam and its attachments can be. Because Internet service providers, e-mail programs and companies all provide filters, most of us see only about 10 percent of the spam that comes to us, he said. In reality, about 94 percent of all e-mail sent is spam, malicious or not, Warner said.

“We’ve insulated people from the problem so they believe it’s not a problem,” he said. “But the truth is it was the No. 1 crime last year. Identity theft had more victims than any other crime in the United States.”

My Gmail and mostly-fallow Yahoo mail accounts get about a thousand pieces of spam a week combined. That’s what I see, and it thankfully gets mostly filed into spam folders. If that only represents about 1/16th of the real total, it really is scary how big the problem is.

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