November 6, 2006 11:49AM

CAN-SPAM Didn’t — Not By a Long Shot

Every once in a while, it’s useful to go back and look at how Congress has done with past regulatory efforts. The exercise might help determine whether to embrace, or be skeptical about, future efforts.

Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act in late 2003, and it became effective January 1, 2004. Here’s the Federal Trade Commission’s summary of the law, which tells us that CAN-SPAM bans false or misleading header information, prohibits deceptive subject lines, requires that commercial e‐​mails give recipients an opt‐​out method, makes it illegal for commercial e‐​mailers to sell or transfer the email addresses of people who choose not to receive their e‐​mails, and requires that commercial e‐​mail be identified as an advertisement and include the sender’s valid physical postal address.

And here’s the result: 3 out of 4 e‐​mails are spam, and 0.27 percent of e‐​mails comply with CAN-SPAM. That’s 27 in every 10,000 e‐​mails.

The regulation is a failure. It provided consumers with zero benefit. Most people are seeing less spam in their Inboxes because of improved filtering technology, a product of commercial ISPs working to serve their customers.

Should Congress or the FTC ramp up enforcement? Increase penalties to bring spammers to heel? No. They should abandon the enterprise entirely and confess their incompetence to regulate the Internet and technology.

Despite its failure, consumers continue to bear the costs of the tedious regulations CAN-SPAM imposed on legitimate businesses. They pay just a little more taxes, a little more for everything they buy online, and they forgo the benefits of that tiny margin of innovation lost as businesses divert their efforts to compliance. 

(Hat tip: TechDirt)