Defense of the inbox

The other night, my sister asked for my help. Her e-mail account was overflowing with spam, those unsolicited ads that you receive in your e-mail inbox.

Psychic spam, porn spam, Viagra spam and fake-diploma spam. I turned on her “Spamguard” and enabled a filter to keep out anything with the word “psychic” in it, then promised to find out what could be done to keep her inbox spam-free.

Nevada’s spam law went into the books in 1998. It was the first in the nation. The law relieved third-party mailing houses of liability, but allowed spam recipients to sue for actual damages.

A second spam statute was enacted in 1999 and amended in 2001. Under Nevada law, it’s now illegal to send unsolicited commercial e-mail unless it is labeled or readily identifiable as an advertisement. It must include the sender’s name, street address, e-mail address and opt-out instructions.

Spam trivia: If all the cans of Spam ever emptied were put end to end, they would circle the globe more than 10 times. But that statistic pales in comparison to the number of spam e-mails on the Internet. It’s estimated that spam comprises almost half of all e-mail traffic. Some Web-based service providers, like Yahoo, have anti-spam features and prohibit the sending of spam from their sites, but many spammers get around that by opening new accounts or forging mail headers.

Tara Shepperson of Reno is executive director of the state Cybercrime Task Force. She says it’s difficult to enforce Nevada laws against spammers. Yes, spam is irritating, but there are more important crimes on the Internet.

“The law in Nevada is limited, you can hire an attorney and get some compensation, but it’s hard to enforce,” Shepperson said. To keep up with technology, Internet legislation needs to upgrade every session.

Kevin Higgins of the Attorney General’s office said that Nevada legislators are looking at other states’ Internet laws to design better legislation for the Silver State.

“We’re looking at the states of Washington and California [to figure out how] to put teeth into our legislation,” he said.

Higgins believes that the idea of completely eradicating junk e-mail is unrealistic.

“It’s like saying you don’t want junk mail in your mailbox at home,” he said. “The fact that you have a mailbox opens you up to junk mail.”