“Welcome to the death of email, ladies and gentlemen. Would the last person to leave email please turn out the lights?”
That’s how a spam fighter greeted the Nanae crowd on the evening of November 22, 2003. Earlier that day, the U.S. House of Representatives had overwhelmingly approved the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act,” otherwise known as CAN-SPAM. The measure was expected to sail through the Senate and be signed into law by President George W. Bush. After six years of failure, Washington was about to enact its first federal anti-spam legislation.
So why the dire prediction on Nanae? Many anti-spammers felt the proposed law was in fact legalizing junk email—and, in the process, opening the floodgates to spam.
“I said years ago that government would only screw it up,” wrote one spam fighter on Nanae. “Will those who have been calling for Congress to do something, please stand up and slap yourselves up side the head?”
CAN-SPAM had been hatched in April 2003 by Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. Their Senate bill, S.R. 877, embraced an opt-out policy that put the burden on Internet users to unsubscribe from spammers’ lists. That was philosophically backward, according to the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. CAUCE and other consumer groups believed that U.S. spam law should be based on an opt-in framework, with advertisers obligated to obtain permission from consumers before ...