The Rumor Mill

Post Office to Kill Spam?

- 2001.06.22

One of the most unexpected bits of news in recent week's was Hormel's decision to stop fighting the use of the word spam for junk email. That seems to be the only good news on the junk email front, especially with the Democrats upholding the First Amendment rights of spammers to spam us.

But wait, what's that - the United States Postal Service is coming to our rescue? It appears so, although it might be a long uphill battle. On Thursday, Postmaster General John E. Potter, citing unfair competition, announced a class action suit against all spammers operating within the United States or sending unsolicited email to U.S. residents.

This suit is in conjunction with new legislation backed by both parties of Congress which could be unveiled as soon as Friday, June 22. Under the new law, which President Dubya is expected to sign immediately, anyone sending spam from the U.S. or to U.S. residents will be taxed threefold.

  1. They will be assessed a fee of 1/10¢ per recipient for the entire mailing. This fee will go to the US Postal Service.
  2. They will be assessed an additional fee of 1/4¢ per recipient for any mail destined for a U.S.-based ISP. This fee will go to any ISP processing three or more emails.
  3. They will further be assessed 1¢ for each addressee in the U.S. or using a U.S. based ISP.

The net cost for sending unsolicited bulk email, which this legislation defines as any message sent to over 1,000 recipients who did not opt in, will be 1.35¢ per addressee for U.S. recipients. That means it will cost spammers $13.50 to send out a thousand messages - or $135,000 to use one of those lists of "10 million spam free addresses."

Spammers will not be able to get off the hook by sending similar emails to 999 recipients, either. Anyone caught doing that or bypassing the USPS mail server will receive an automatic $1,000,000 fine, with half that going to the Postal Service and the other half divided among those who reported the spam to

The Postal Service's class action suit attempts to make this retroactive to June 22, 1996, which should provide the funds for their new micropayment system.

Yes, rumor lovers, the Post Office is going into the micropayment business. Starting with the very addresses culled from spam, the USPS will be setting up a massive distributed redundant database of email addresses. Each email address will be tied to a micropayment account which will be credited 1¢ each time you receive spam.

How will they afford this? They're counting on the class action suit, but can fund the system without if need be. Much to Microsoft's chagrin, the entire infrastructure will be Linux-based, which will help keep costs down. But with billions of spams processed each day, the Postal Service should rake in at least a billion dollars each year - unless the rate of spam declines.

The Postal Service may make even more money from undeliverable email, since all those pennies in all those accounts for closed and nonexistent email addresses will revert to the USPS after one year of inactivity.

This whole proposal turns spam on its head - the more email addresses you have, the more money you can make. And the USPS will let you aggregate all your micropayment accounts into a single ewallet. You've gotta love it!

Well, unless you're a spammer. This legislation, which will also require all spam generated within the country or entering the country to use new USPS mail servers, will literally nickel and dime spammers to death. Not only will it cost spammers 1.35¢ for each email they send you, but they'll even have to pay for bad email addresses!

For anyone who has ever complained about spam, this is much better news than the email tax hoax, which would have taxed spam along with legitimate email. (Hoax. Hoax. Hoax. It's a hoax. There is no legislation pending to tax email, just spam. Really.)

Well, excuse me, I need to sign up for a few hundred free email addresses, post them on the Web, and make sure the spammers can find me. ;-)

- Anne Onymus

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