- Perhaps it was only coincidence that Stanford law professor Larry Lessig chose last week, the opening week of hunting season on wild turkeys, to propose legislation that would pay a bounty to private citizens who hunt down spammers.
Lessig, who persuaded California Representative Zoe Lofgren to pitch the idea to Congress last Thursday, imagines a world in which white hat hackers put their skills to good use, revealing the names and address of marketers who spew the unwanted messages that now constitute 40 percent of all e-mail. After tracking down the source of the spam, Lessig suggests, the hunters should alert the Federal Trade Commission, which would investigate, fine the culprits and reward the hunter with 20 percent of that fine.
“It’s like bounty hunters in the old West,” Lessig reportedly told a gathering of Stanford law students. “You bring ’em in and get the bounty.”
Sounds simple. And the law professor is so confident that the bounty system will work that he offered to quit his job if the bill is passed and fails to substantially reduce spam.
Lofgren’s bill has several promising provisions, such as requiring bulk unsolicited e-mail to include the tag “ADV:” in its subject line and requiring marketers to include a way for recipients to opt out, but the bounty proposal may the most promising.
There is little dispute that the government lacks the resources to hunt down and prosecute spammers, but with the tech economy stuck in park, many thousands of graduating computer science majors should have plenty of free time.
….last Friday, when the two participants in an FTC forum on spam, a Florida lawyer and an anti-spam activist, went at each other and had to be forcibly separated by FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle.
This week, it’s clear that the spam vs. anti-spam dialogue is already a vigilante free-for-all. What then, is the downside of encouraging hackers to track down spammers? [Darwin]
There is none I can think of – it’s a great idea to use “smart mobs” of geeks, incentivized with cold hard cash, to track down these vermin.
Here’s is the gist of Lofgren’s bill:
- “REDUCE SPAM Act of 2003”:
Requires marketers to label commercial spam.
Requires marketers to establish a valid return e-mail address where a person can opt-out of receiving further e-mails.
Prohibits marketers from sending any further e-mails after a person opts-out.
Prohibits spam with false or misleading routing information or deceptive subject headings.
Authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to collect civil fines against marketers who violate these requirements.
Creates a strong incentive for people to report violations by establishing a bounty for the first person to identify a violator and supply information that leads to the successful collection of a civil penalty by the FTC.
Gives recipients and Internet Service Providers the right to bring civil actions against marketers who violate these requirements.
Establishes criminal penalties for fraudulent spam.
“Spam Vigilantes” – sounds like a song by New Order and Monty Python. Sic ’em, geeks.