Internaut: Will FTC's tough talk on spam make a difference?

Shawn P. McCarthy

Public confidence in e-mail is eroding, the Federal Trade Commission recently told Congress, and the antispam bills now in the hopper might not succeed at stopping the ever-growing flood of junk messages.

In a report to two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees'Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Telecommunications and the Internet'FTC said stopping spam will require a complex mixture of technology fixes and law enforcement, plus education and changes in consumer behavior.

Howard Beales, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, testified that there is 'no quick or simple silver bullet. Solutions will depend on cooperative efforts between government and the private sector.' View the report by going to and entering 136 in the

Beales called for better enforcement tools to catch those who falsify headers or routing information.

But that's the crux, isn't it? A packet directed anywhere on the Internet gets delivered to its destination regardless of the 'from' information. The only way to stop header and address spoofing is to change the way the Internet handles packet routing.

That's not something easily accomplished via legislation or monitoring tools. It's a matter for the Internet Engineering Task Force, not the FTC.

Slightly easier than redoing the packet-routing process is to develop other protocols for mail systems.

One example of an IETF effort to stop spammers and spoofers is the proposed Designated Mailers Protocol drafted by a Canadian, Gordon Fecyk. It's basically a way to make spammers accountable by tracking'or at least filtering. A link to Fecyk's draft also appears at

Regardless of whether a new protocol is the answer, FTC is correct that only enforcement can make a spam law work. But that means funding the enforcers.

Just as the national Do Not Call list for telemarketers will work only if official pressure is applied on those who break the rules, spam laws can work only if enforced. And all the other pieces must be in place'staffs and the proper equipment for them to do the job.

FTC appears eager to take on enforcement. It can't succeed without a lot of help.

Shawn P. McCarthy is president of an information services development company. E-mail him at [email protected].

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.


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