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An E-Mail Wish: Send 'em All to Jail!

I've lived in Ann Arbor, (bastion of liberality, of which I heartily approve) long enough that I automatically get a guilty twinge every time I feel vindictive, especially one of those deep, satisfying surges of emotion that ends up in my consciousness like "Hooray! I hope they put every one of those &#$%s in jail." But this morning I read a New York Times article that brought those kinds of feelings to my consciousness and I got past the guilt immediately.

"Federal and state law enforcement agencies have quietly arrested or charged dozens of people with crimes related to junk e-mail, identity theft and other online scams in recent weeks, according to several people involved in the actions."

I enjoyed reading that so much that I can even handle, temporarily at least, being on the same side as attorney general John Ashcroft.

I used to be blasé about spam and similar offenses. In the early days of the public and popular Internet I would wonder at the instant rage such things produced in some people and even tried for a while, unsuccessfully, to gain acceptance of the term "e-rage" to mean instant emotional outrage due to seemingly minor electronic irritants. I would say things like, "Well, I get 150 e-mails a day and I don't mind the two or three that are spam." Or, "Well, I would never click on an unknown attachment, I just don't understand what the importance of this is." Perhaps I was right . . . then. But I sure have changed my tune.

Now I get about 450 e-mails overnight, between leaving work until I arrive in the office the next morning (assuming I don't do any checking at home). More than 90 percent of those are spam or virus carriers. Then, during "working hours" I get about another 450 or so messages, but at least the percentage of spam during that time g'es down to about 80 percent. It has become a huge drag on my time to scan so many useless subject lines to find the useful messages. Every time I use a filter aggressively I end up missing good messages that get filtered to the junk folder, and the nature of my job requires that I be easily available so unpublishing, or even changing my e-mail address is really not an option. Sigh.

What else in my world has changed to make me happy to see people going to jail? Well, there was the trip of several days that I spent in August, 2003 in Flagstaff, Arizona with a laptop that worked fine until I had been online for a few moments, then went into "This machine is shutting down in 60 seconds, 59 second, 58 seconds mode." Can you say "xxxx" worm? And I didn't even click on any attachments! That left, by the time that vacation was over, a lump of nearly 10,000 messages that still sits, undigested, in the bowels of my Mozilla e-mail software's folders.

Given the increase in the amount of spam (including viruses with commercial targets) that is clearly aimed at digging out people's personal information for use in various frauds and identity theft crimes, I've spent some time in the past year wondering when officials would get more aggressive with these criminals. (I initially wrote "folks" instead of "criminals"-changing that term is indicative of my attitude at the moment.) That's why I welcomed this morning's news, despite my slight discomfort with the unusual nature of the Operation Slam Spam team, which works out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is made up partly of law enforcement officials and partly of executives from industries that use the Internet for business-including funding from the Direct Mail Association (DMA).

Despite these efforts, I don't expect to see a positive impact on my incoming e-mail any time soon. I, like many more people, will continue using instant messaging more and more instead of e-mail. (I just found out yesterday that my "buddy list" won't let me add "buddy" number 201. Apparently there's a limit.) Even with all the spam, I still vastly prefer e-mail to the telephone. In terms of potential annoyance, I equate one voice message with about 500 e-mails. If I can figure out a way to turn off the voicemail feature on my Sprint account, that will make me nearly as happy as reading about spammers getting indicted.

But I do I hope they put every one of those &#$%s in jail.

"Dozens Charged in Push Against Spam and Scams"
New York Times, August 25, 2004

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