Another Unnoticed Failure of "Small Government"

CNN claims today that 9 out of 10 emails are spam. This comes days after the EU says the number is half. I’m not sure if these figures are weighted for bandwidth usage, or if an e-mail is an e-mail regardless of size.

Either way, this represents a significant drain on the Internet, and is necessarily reflected in the bills you and I pay for Internet access. In addition, it consumes untold processor cycles (and therefore electricity—spam contributes to global warming!) running spam protection routines and software.

The government has passed a law here and there, including the “Can-Spam” Act, under which a grand total of one person has been prosecuted (it’s a race with the al-Qaeda prosecutors). But nothing has happened.

Smart-alecky commentators like me are supposed to proffer a solution—it’s one of the rules. I don’t have one. It’s not my job. I don’t work for the FCC or Congress or a major ISP. I just pay for them.

The best solution I can think of is a broad push by a very wide coalition of online presences to begin rejecting e-mail that comes from unconfirmed sources. Anyone who wants to use e-mail needs something similar to a very primitive digital signature. If MSN, Google, AOL, Yahoo! (just to start) offered their customers a free verified ID (attach it to a credit card?) e-mail, and places like eBay, Amazon, and a few major corporations started refusing e-mail that didn’t come in that form, we might be somewhere.

But those companies haven’t done that, probably because there’s money to be made somewhere by being the person to develop the standard. (BluRay, anyone?) So, it’s time for our leaders to lead. Do something. Solve a tangible problem for millions of people.

It ain’t Katrina, and it ain’t Iraq, but fixing spam is a step towards showing that good government is better than small government.