The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

23 March 2003

Fax off and die

In 1991, the Congress decided in enacting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that unsolicited faxes, since they created not only inconvenience but actual cost to the recipients, could legitimately be legislated out of existence. Subsequently, the state of Missouri filed suit against two junk-fax operations, who claimed that their, um, product was protected by the First Amendment. The US District Court hearing the case sided with the faxers; the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has now reversed that decision.

The pertinent part of the ruling:

We conclude that [the TCPA] satisfies the constitutional test for regulation of commercial speech and thus withstands First Amendment scrutiny. There is a substantial governmental interest in protecting the public from the cost shifting and interference caused by unwanted fax advertisements, and the means chosen by Congress to address these harms directly and materially advances the governmental interest. The statute is also narrowly tailored to create a reasonable fit with its objective.

I tend to be somewhat uneasy about government involvement in matters of this sort, but in this case I'll make an exception, since someone calling my fax machine uses my consumables, and not all junk-fax purveyors honor do-not-call requests. I'm hoping that this finding by the 8th Circuit will serve as precedent for a national antispam law: I get maybe two dozen junk faxes a year, but I get three dozen spams every day, and I doubt the government would permit me to kill the miserable SOBs who send them.

Posted at 11:52 AM to Dyssynergy


I'm no fan of government intervention, but spam has ruined e-mail. I delete about 100 spams per day, some of them filthy, way beyond ordinary pr0n. I used to look forward to getting e-mail from pen-pals. Now I put off opening my e-mail account to as late in the day as possible. I have to keep up with it, just to clean out the spam and keep up with the few legitimate e-mails I get, but it's not fun any more. If the government can find a way to control spammers, who really are no different from obscene phone-callers, I'm all for it. I'm pro-p0rn and anti-censorship, BTW. This isn't about censorship, it's about privacy.

Posted by: Diane L. at 12:49 PM on 23 March 2003

I maintain a couple of boxes as spam traps, and I don't check them more than once a week, simply because I can't stand to look at them more often. (Their figures are not included in my three-dozen-a-day total; if they were, it would certainly double.)

I would have no objection to junk fax, or even to spam, if the senders were bearing the brunt of the expense. One proposal I've seen would in effect put a coin box by your mail box. Friends could buy yearly access for a couple of bucks or so; those without annual passes would have to deposit some small sum, say, five cents, or be turned away. A hundred spams a day would produce $35 a week, over $1700 a year, if they kept it up, but of course they wouldn't: sending 150,000 spams at a time would cost them $7500 per mailing. If nothing else, this would rekindle interest in direct mail. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 1:31 PM on 23 March 2003

Heck, if that were the plan I'd max out the number of POP3 boxes I'm allowed, and could make a fair amount on the side just by letting people spam me.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 3:21 PM on 23 March 2003