canter-02 Canter and Siegel Spam consumes vast resources on the Internet which necessarily ends up costing us more than it ought. It can also overwhelm your mailbox and make reading legitimate email hard work. It means that what should be one of the greatest social and business innovations of the 20th century is in danger of becoming distrusted and unreliable.

History records that the first ever spam was sent, ironically enough for an activity of dubious legality, by a firm of lawyers on 12 April 1994. Arizona-based Canter and Siegel, a husband and wife business, had their email access cancelled and immediately became the stuff of Internet lore.

Spam takes its name from a Monty Python sketch set in a cafe in which every dish comprises multiple portions of Spam, see right. The Hormel Corporation, which still makes and sells SPAM Luncheon Meat, takes a philosophical view of it all. As long as you don't spell it with a capital "S" and you don't use a picture of a tin of SPAM Luncheon Meat to represent spam, you're okay. They have a page about it here: SPAM and the Internet.

The reason we have so much spam is that it is virtually free to send and, incredibly, it works because enough people are trusting enough to buy the products being offered to make it worth the hassle. In this era of identity theft it is amazing that people still entrust their credit card details to someone who knowlingly uses deceitful means to get their message out. Because of that, we are all burdened by spam.

The Internet industry has been working hard to eradicate this abuse for many years now. The reaction to Canter and Siegel was immediate and the same vigour is applied to spammers today, spammers are hunted down with a vengeance. However, that effort is diluted by ill thought-out laws attempting to stamp it out.

A good example is illustrated in the text box to the left. A US Senator by the name of Frank Murkowski tried to pass a law that outlawed spam. But, at the same time, the bill attempted to define what was spam and what was not. One stipulation was that it would not be spam if there were a way of unsubscribing from the spammers list. It didn't stipulate that attempting to unsubscribe had to work, merely that a means had to be offered. How it never occurred to the good Senators that spammers would merely include the relevant text but never honour any requests is impossible to say. But that's not the whole story.

The attempt to pass this law failed. But to this day, some spammers include the wording anyway in order to make their spam seem legitimate and to fend off attempts to have them stopped.

Another example comes from the UK where laws were passed that defined spam as being to a person's private email address. This sets out in law the concept that spam to a business email address is not, legally, spam. Another idea is that the first unsolicited email is not spam, but that subsequent ones sent without consent would be. Now, how many spams do you ever see that come from the same address? Given that spammers routinely fake "From" addresses this cannot do anything to solve the problem. On the contrary, it gives spammers more legal ammunition to foil moves to shut them down.

The final word should go to the US Supreme Court who in their decision in Rowan v. U.S. Post Office, ruled:

"Nothing in the Constitution compels us to listen to or view any unwanted communication, whatever its merit. We categorically reject the argument that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another. If this prohibition operates to impede the flow of even valid ideas, the answer is that no one has a right to press even 'good' ideas on an unwilling recipient. The asserted right of a mailer, we repeat, stops at the outer boundary of every person's domain."
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The famous Monty Python "Vikings" sketch.

Man: You sit here, dear.
Wife: All right.
Man: Morning!
Waitress: Morning!
Man: Well, what've you got?
Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam;
Vikings: Spam spam spam spam...
Waitress: ...spam spam spam egg and spam; spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam...
Vikings: Spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!
Waitress: ...or Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam.
Wife: Have you got anything without spam?
Waitress: Well, there's spam egg sausage and spam, that's not got much spam in it.
Wife: I don't want ANY spam!
Man: Why can't she have egg bacon spam and sausage?
Wife: THAT'S got spam in it!
Man: Hasn't got as much spam in it as spam egg sausage and spam, has it?
Vikings: Spam spam spam spam
Wife: Could you do the egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam then?
Waitress: Eewwww!
Wife: What do you mean 'Eewwww'? I don't like spam!
Vikings: Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
Waitress: Shut up!
Vikings: Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
Waitress: Shut up! Bloody Vikings! You can't have egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam.
Wife: I don't like spam!
Man: Sshh, dear, don't cause a fuss. I'll have your spam. I love it. I'm having spam spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam and spam!
Vikings: Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
Waitress: Shut up!! Baked beans are off.
Man: Well could I have her spam instead of the baked beans then?
Waitress: You mean spam spam spam spam spam spam...
Vikings: Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam. Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Spam spam spam spam!
capitol-02 The Capitol Building
website design - the best on the web Senator Murkowski
This e-mail is sent in compliance with strict anti-abuse and NO SPAM regulations. Your address was collected as a result of either posting to a link, a free classified ad, or you have sent me an e-mail in the past. Under Bill S1618 TITLE III, passed by the 105th US Congress, this message cannot be considered SPAM as long as there is a way to be removed, paragraph (a) (c) of S. 1618."
justice-01 The US Supreme Court