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Limiting Unsolicited Bulk Email

IMC's members have expressed a strong interest in helping to come up with solutions to the problem of unsolicitied bulk email (UBE), better known as "spam". The use and abuse of UBE is spreading rapidly, and many Internet users are complaining loudly about the very negative effects it has on them.


IMC Report Details Solutions to Unsolicited Bulk Email

Furthering its effort to help groups who are working to reduce or eliminate unsolicited bulk email, IMC has produced the second of its reports on the problem. The report, "Unsolicited Bulk Email: Mechanisms for Control", lists the many technical and legal solutions being discussed and shows how they affect Internet mail users.

Many people believe that spam is caused by the fact that there are many open SMTP relays on the Internet. IMC's report on open relays, "Allowing Relaying in SMTP: A Series of Surveys", analyzes the percentage of SMTP servers that are open relays.


IMC Report Defines Unsolicited Bulk Email And Its Problems

Many groups are discussing ways to help reduce or eliminate unsolicited bulk mail. However, few of these groups, including the state and national legislatures that are considering laws relating to unsolicited bulk email, have set down good definitions for what they are trying to curtail and what the problems are.

To aid these groups, IMC has written a report titled "Unsolicited Bulk Email: Definitions and Problems". The report gives precise definitions that are readable by laypeople and yet are precise enough for legislators. Further, the report gives concise overviews of the problems that UBE causes, and who is most affected by these problems. It does not take sides on which of the many solutions that have been proposed would be best; instead, it lets the groups debating the issues start with a common base so that they can clarify how their particular solutions help alleviate particular problems caused by UBE.


U.S. and State Anti-UBE Legislation

Many people know about the bills being considered by the U.S. Congress to limit UBE (a good overview of the bills can be found at the Center For Democracy and Technology's "Junk Email" pages). However, there are now bills in many state legislatures that would ban or limit UBE. There is a very good site at the John Marshall Law School that covers both federal and state anti-UBE bills and laws. David Sorkin runs another good site that covers spam laws around the world.

IMC has found that there has been very little legal research done on the effectiveness of proposed anti-UBE legislation in the US. Because of this, IMC commissioned three legal memos that should aid legislators and others who are considering or drafting laws that are meant to reduce or prevent UBE. The memos are:


Anti-UBE Resources

We have found many excellent articles that describe the problems and possible solutions for UBE:

For up-to-date news about spam, there is an excellent newsletter called spamNEWS. It covers spam from a variety of perspectives, and is a must-read for IS and mail managers.

Phil Agre has put together an excellent guide called How to Complain About Spam that lists many anti-UBE tools and resources. In addition, there is a good overview of anti-UBE resources organized by Scott Hazen Mueller. Another excellent list of anti-UBE resources is maintained by the Electronic Software Publishing Corporation.

RFC 2505, "Anti-Spam Recommendations for SMTP MTAs", describes how you can help thwart spammers from using your SMTP server as a launching pad for sending spam.

RFC 2635, "DON'T SPEW: A Set of Guidelines for Mass Unsolicited Mailings and Postings (spam*)", describes why unsolicited bulk email (UBE, better know as spam) are harmful both to the Internet and to the sender. This Informational RFC brings together a great deal of good advice about spam and how to help prevent it from being sent. RFC 3098, How to Advertise Responsibly Using E-Mail and Newsgroups or - how NOT to $$$$$ MAKE ENEMIES FAST! $$$$$ is a companion document that describes good marketing practices.


One technical solution being proposed is to help SMTP servers filter mail. The work being done on this is hosted by the IMC on the MTA filters discussion list.


If you have suggestions for other high-quality articles, or have other suggestions about how IMC should be involved, please send them to phoffman@imc.org.