One of the nation’s strictest anti-spam laws will not be reinstated after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal urging the high court to declare Virginia’s Computer Crimes Act constitutional.
Jeremy Jaynes, one of the most prolific email spammers in the world, was convicted in 2004 of violating Virginia’s anti-spam law and sentenced to nine years in prison. The Virginia state supreme court overturned the conviction last year, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case this spring, thus leaving the voiding of Jaynes’ conviction in place.
The decision will not free Jaynes from prison, however, as he remains behind bars because of a federal securities fraud conviction unrelated to the state spamming charges.
Court’s Decision Praised
John Levine, president of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, an advocacy group that seeks to prevent spam through enforcement of existing laws, thinks the Supreme Court made the correct decision.
The federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, Levine said, is a better instrument for controlling unwanted spam and passes constitutional muster.
“I think the Court made the right call because it would have opened large and needless cans of worms about the relationship of federal and state courts, as well as First Amendment treatment of commercial speech,” Levin said.
“The law in question was preempted by federal legislation,” Levine noted, “and even Jaynes’ lawyer says he’d have been guilty under federal legislation if he’d done what he did a year later, so the case is essentially moot.”
Stronger Federal Action Wanted
Ray Everett-Church, founder of PrivacyClue.com, an anti-spam networking Web site in favor of more government intervention to control spam, said he is lukewarm on the Court’s ruling against the Virginia law.
“I think the Supreme Court made the right decision, but not because the federal level is where the solution lies,” Everett-Church said. “I think the decision to deny certiorari is simply a recognition that the Virginia Supreme Court gets to be the ultimate arbiter of Virginia law.”
Everett-Church believes the CAN-SPAM Act has been only slightly effective in deterring spam.
“Today spam is ‘managed’ much in the same way a chronic disease is managed, like fighting a cancer that is constantly changing and adapting to become resistant to treatments, requiring newer, costlier, and increasingly debilitating techniques,” Everett-Church said.
Private Sector Policing Spam
Theodore H. Frank, a research fellow specializing in regulatory matters at the Washington, DC-based American Enterprise Institute, said more government regulation aimed at preventing spam won’t work.
Most spammers operate outside of the United States and its laws, so the private sector has stepped in to develop newer and better technologies to fight this “disease” plaguing their email systems, Frank notes.
“The combination of private-industry spam filtering, and international spammers beyond the reach of American law, does seem to make government policy in this area beside the point,” Frank said.
Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.