FTC wants new weapons in fight against spam

An article in the Washington Post details some of the requests from the FTC for new authorities requested in the fight against spam.

The requests may go to far, though, when they ask for criminal penalties for forging email addresses.

In the typical governmental hyperbole, Orson Swindle of the FTC told the lawmakers that spam "has become the weapon of choice for those engaged in fraud and deception" and is "about to kill the killer (application) of the Internet, specifically consumer use of e-mail and e-commerce."

Personally, I just throw it out, and so do most of the people that I know, but I guess it is possible that there are people so debilitated by spam that they get rid of their email altogether. Frankly, I get less spam in my virtual mail box than I do in my real mail box. I guess the difference is that the government makes money off of the real mail box spam. (Of course, the virtual stuff is much friendlier to the environment).

Typically, the article describes spam as having cost industry "billions" in unnecessary bandwidth (yeah, like anyone is really using any of the bandwidth they are paying for anyway, with the current glut).

In the end, the FTC is asking for much of the same authority it has to deal with tele-marketers in dealing with spam. They want to be able to work with other countries, secretly keep tabs on the spammers without notifying them, and to go after spammers who masquerade as other users.

However, there is one potentially disturbing provision. The article indicates that the commission is calling for criminal penalties for forging email addresses. That may sound interesting for going after people masquerading as others, but what about people using anonymous remailers and the like for non- volume email? The USPS doesn't require a true return address (or any return address for that matter) on my paper mail. Are we throwing out the anonymity baby with the spam bath water here?

Equally disturbing is the call for the repeal of provisions keeping common carriers out of the reach of the FTC. This could potentially stifle small internet service providers (and large ones) by removing the same protections that the telephone companies have against the government requiring them to police their users. That burden is way too high if you can sue an ISP for what their customers do, and it will significantly aid the RIAA and MPAA in their copyright fight if something like this erodes the armor of the common carrier provisions for ISPs. (Think about the DMCA immplications of this).