Monday, June 2, 1997

Week of 06/02/1997

Technology, not Legislation
- by David Matthews 2

Pop quiz boys and girls: You’re driving down the highway when you get a flat tire. You pull over and after walking a quarter of a mile you come across a pay phone. Who do you call to get your car fixed, a mechanic or an accountant? Common sense will tell you a mechanic. After all, the mechanic will be able to fix the problem. What will the accountant do other than make sure you have enough money, and maybe call the mechanic?

How about this: You come home and find that your pipes have blown and there’s water filling up the house. Who do you call to fix the water pipes, a plumber, or a pizza delivery boy? Well again common sense will tell you to call the plumber first.. even though you’d probably have to call out for pizza while you’re waiting for your house to get bailed out.

Third question: There’s a problem with the Internet. You’re getting spam e-mail that you can’t even begin to stop. Who would you turn to fix it - the computer programmers who created browsers for Netscape and Microsoft, or your local politician? Well common sense would once again tell you to call the programmers…

Unfortunately common sense is thrown out the window when politicians are involved.

Case in point - E-mail spam. Congress has recently introduced legislation designed to "reign in" the companies such as Cyber Promotions and other bulk E-mail services from harassing computer users with spam E-mail.

Nice thought, but do you REALLY think legislation will stop spammers?

Make no mistake, Spam is an electronic nightmare that I wish never happened. Between spam E-mail and spam newsgroup postings these companies have polluted Internet communications to the point where almost ANYTHING that will hurt them will seem tempting. But to trust the same mentalities that gave us the Communication Decency Act to be able to do something about spam? I would hope we’re not THAT desperate!

Think about this for a minute - one of the major products being spammed now is for bulk E-mail software! And many spam messages have bogus E-mail addresses, making it hard to track back to the spammer. Do you think that legislation alone will stop these people? No it won’t! The ONLY way such legislation will work is if the US government takes the road of China and heavily regulates the Internet!

So what’s the answer? Well if the problem lies in technology, then the solution also lies in technology.

Most spam E-mail messages have only one address - the remailer address, such as "" They won’t have your address posted anywhere in the message. This is how they are able to get to you. This is also their Achilles heel. How hard would it be for Microsoft or Netscape to develop a filter that would exclude certain E-mail messages that don’t have your E-mail address on them? Believe me, the bulk of cyber-geeks and net-addicts will lap this up faster then free nude pics of Jenny McCarthy! A way to get rid of spammers will beat any other program hands down! This is THE plug-in to develop!

Of course there are legitimate uses of remailer programs, such as news releases from political organizations and notices when companies have updated their web site. But all too often these notices are being downed out by spam. Whoever develops the "spam-killer" filter should probably also add a way to also save those remailer addresses you want to have brought in.

And how will the spammers handle this? Well once they realize that the vast majority of their messages won’t even make it to the mailbox, never mind be read, the fun will be taken out of spamming. The remailer programs will be useless, and spammers will go out of business! Technology created the spammers, and only technology will stop the spammers.

Of course this is all just a symptom of a much larger trend of relying on government to solving all of our problems. We have gotten so used to having the government come in and solve our problems that politicians are now offended that we could actually do something without them knowing about it. These are the same clods who made running into debt a national pastime. They make the Japanese look bad for only having 17 ways to say "no" that sound like saying "yes." They are the reason why 51% of all registered voters stayed home during the 1996 presidential elections. When you look in the dictionary for the word "hypocrisy" you find "see Politician." And we still turn to them to get stuff done.

Let’s get brutally honest here. We need to stop turning to government and actually think about some SOLUTIONS to problems that don’t involve politicians. When you bring a solution to government it no longer becomes YOUR solution. It becomes the solution of the POLITICIAN. Then it becomes the solution of the legislative committee that oversees that area. Then it becomes the solution of the legislative body. And by that time whatever simple solution you have to offer is lost in red tape and legal double-talk and pork-laden amendments that have absolutely nothing whatsoever with the issue at hand. (Somewhere in that provision Sen. Robert Byrd gets yet another federal building built in his home district, although nobody has been able to find out how.) And we’re not even talking about the regulatory agency that will be assigned to oversee the implementation of this solution, the regulations written, and the courts that will eventually mold it through their decisions.

Look, when it comes to finding sound and effective solutions to problems, be they technological or otherwise, you won’t find them in a government subcommittee. You will find them in the hearts and minds of people who are looking to SOLVE problems, not find a new tool to exploit for re-election or use for another pork project.

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