We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Lots of good but wrong

Lots of good but wrong stuff…

…In Kevin Holtsberry’s blog. I would like to join battle with the redoubtable Mr Holtsberry on several issues, but can I start with just this one. I am as he is of sick of e-mails headed “heya…” and “hi?” that turn out to be porn. These e-mails disgust me when I see them, waste my time while I delete them, and mean that my children cannot be let out even for a moment from the kiddie-ghetto of Kids’ AOL. I don’t deny there is a problem. His proposed solution is to have a law. I have to point out that there probably are laws already, dozens of them. How long does a new one take to come in? How effective will enforcement be? Is there any special reason to suppose that it will be any more effective than the laws prohibiting drugs?

Slowly, imperfectly, but definitely, the market has provided solutions to related problems before. We first hooked up to Compuserve in 1995. At that time you paid for every message you received. We received a lot of junk, got sick of it, and quit. (Our family would be classified in advertiser’s jargon as not so much “early adopters” as “early rejecters”.) When we came back five years later the payment structure problem had been solved, and the quantity of junk mail much decreased. (Yes, really.) It’s an arms race. At the moment the attackers are winning – but who is going to be more motivated to research on means of defence: AOL, who are going to lose my custom one of these fine days if they don’t get a move on, or the government?

It’s not the case that I deny any role for law in this issue. Separate contracts, enforceable in law, between ISP and users as to what could and could not be sent by the ISP’s services, would be fine by me. Different ISP’s could compete on their various brand contracts. “We always prosecute pornographers who send unsolicited mail!” some would boast. Others could proudly say, “You choose: this service is completely unrestricted and unsupervised.” Contrast that with the obvious dangers of blanket supervision by not just the present government but all future ones. But the law is always likely to trail behind the power of angry customers (like me) with the right of exit. The lowlife that Mr Holtsberry rightly describes as being “creative and dishonest” in evading the software barriers that Internet Service Providers try to put up against them are scarcely likely to be less creative and more honest in evading legal barriers.

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