I am quoting an interesting article from the 01/19/04 (Monday) edition of the San Francisco Chronicle on the subject of SPAM. I thougt that it might be of interest to members.

Joanne Lafler was looking forward to a cleaner e-mail inbox this year.

After all, the federal CAN-SPAM law had just gone into effect, banning e- mail advertising with deceptive subject lines or disguised return addresses.

But instead, the Oakland researcher and writer continued waking up each morning to an inbox stuffed with spam.

"I was just outraged that this piece of legislation would be passed with such fanfare, and it hasn't changed a thing," said Lafler, 69.

Millions of e-mail users are coming to the same rude awakening: Despite a federal law plugged as a tough new anti-spam measure, the junk e-mail has not subsided. In fact, San Francisco spam-filtering firm Brightmail Inc. estimates that about 58 percent of all the e-mail it has seen in January has been spam, the same level as it was in December before the law was passed.

The good news is that there are agencies you can complain to about the spam deluge. The bad news is: There's no promise complaining will do any good.

Two agencies are charged with going after spammers who violate the CAN- SPAM law: the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. Both the FTC and California's attorney general have already been pursuing lawsuits against spammers, so it's not a big change for them.

It's not necessary to study the new law before complaining to the FTC or the attorney general. If the spam e-mail you received doesn't violate the new measure, both offices can still use other laws to sue spammers.

The FTC and attorneys general fight spam by filing lawsuits against the most egregious offenders they find, so if your e-mail is one of many complaining about a particular e-marketer, you may help trigger an investigation. But don't expect instant results. Both agencies say that investigating spammers is a long, labor-intensive process.

"We've found that it's difficult to find the spammers" because senders of bulk junk mail often disguise their names, e-mail addresses and message routing information, said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau. "It frequently takes us a series of 15, sometimes 20 subpoenas to track down a person in the real world we can actually sue."

The FTC receives about 300,000 spam complaints every day. The agency brought 60 cases against spammers, all successful, before the federal law went into effect. The agency sued them for deceptive marketing practices.

California's attorney general has so far shut down one spammer, using the state's old anti-spam law. A court decision in October forced PW Marketing to pay a $2 million fine.

Both the FTC and the California attorney general say they are investigating other cases they began working on before the CAN-SPAM law came along, and they say the new law won't change their investigations much.

But for California's attorney general, the new law could make prosecuting spammers harder because it supersedes a much-stricter state law that was to go into effect Jan. 1.

"We supported the California law, and still believe it's much stronger, much more protective of consumers," said Tom Dressler, spokesman for the attorney general, who joked that CAN-SPAM is an apt name for the federal law because it means that marketers can spam people. "But we're going to aggressively use all the authority we have under the state and the new federal law," he said.

The new law didn't give either agency any additional resources to take on the enforcement responsibility; neither agency has a full-time anti-spam team. That lack of resources is one reason some anti-spam activists are skeptical of the law's impact. Under the California law superseded by the federal law, individuals would have been able to go after spammers in court on their own, instead of waiting for the government to act.

"Honestly, we don't think the FTC has the resources to enforce this," said John Mozena, co-founder and vice president of the Internet-based organization Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. "That's why we were disappointed that there's no private right of action like there was under the California law."

But there is one aspect of spam that the federal law leaves to the states: If an e-mail makes false claims or contains a false return address, the state can still prosecute under the local law.

Dressler said he believes that this exemption means that California individuals still have the right to sue spammers over deceptive e-mails.

However, Palo Alto attorney Timothy Walton, who has brought about 10 lawsuits against spammers, disagrees with Dressler's interpretation. He says that individuals in California have lost their private right of action under the spam law. But he intends to keep suing spammers, using other laws, like statutes against negligence, fraud and even trespassing because, he says, spammers are in effect trespassing on computers.

Another thing consumers can do under the CAN-SPAM law is demand to be removed from spammers' lists. E-mail marketers are required to include a working link or e-mail address in the message for removal requests, and any that fail to honor this request are in violation of the law.

Some e-mail users, however, are afraid to click on unsubscribe links because they've heard that doing so merely alerts the spammer that it's a working address and encourages them to send even more junk mail.

But a recent FTC study showed that this is not the case.

"We never found a case where we clicked on the link and got more spam," Beales said. "Go ahead and click."

That's not to say clicking "unsubscribe" will do any good, just that it probably won't do any harm.

Liz Raymer, a semiretired psychologist in Berkeley, tried unsubscribing to large batches of spam messages after the new law went into effect.

"Not one of them went through," said Raymer, 70. She got "return to sender" messages for each "unsubscribe" she sent out.

Who you gonna call?
Two government agencies are collecting complaints about unwanted e-mail ads for possible prosecution. If that doesn't do the trick, you can try contacting the spammer's Internet service provider:.

California attorney general's office