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PennDrago

Spam? A violation of our rights?

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We all get it-- everyday. Spam. But is it a violation of our rights? It is a form of advertising not dissimiliar to telemarketing or even commericals.

I tend to think that so long as Spammers give us honest information and the ability to remove ourselves from their lists that it is just another industry.

Any other thoughts or ideas on the subject would be fantastic.

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We all get it-- everyday.  Spam.  But is it a violation of our rights?  It is a form of advertising not dissimiliar to telemarketing or even commericals. 

I tend to think that so long as Spammers give us honest information and the ability to remove ourselves from their lists that it is just another industry. 

It is not different from unsolicited phone calls or mail. And frankly it ticks me off. However, Spamassassin makes my life much easier by eliminating 99% of the daily spam quotient. 75% of the spam I get is Chinese, so I have no idea if they are being honest or telling lies, and I don't care. There is no sense in which a spammer initiates force against you; if you don't like your email, get a different ISP.

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We all get it-- everyday.  Spam.  But is it a violation of our rights?  It is a form of advertising not dissimiliar to telemarketing or even commericals. 

I tend to think that so long as Spammers give us honest information and the ability to remove ourselves from their lists that it is just another industry. 

Any other thoughts or ideas on the subject would be fantastic.

Someone sending me an email/making a phone call/mailing me a glossy dead tree/or knocking on my door without asking me first is an annoyance but not a violation of my rights. Now, when the person fakes the return address, obfuscates the owner of the site, etc, then that is simply fraud.

This is where the CANSPAM act completely dropped the ball (not that it surprises anyone) was that it tried to completely create new series of rights and violations thereof. If they would have simply defined lying about who you are, selling fake items, etc were indeed fraud then it would all be a done deal. I think it's pretty evident that when that email goes across state lines and is deceptive, then that falls under intersate commerce violations which the constitution pretty clearly the realm of federal courts.

Edited by scottkursk

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Are spam and telemarketing a violation of individual rights?

It might properly be considered a violation as a "trespass to chattels (possessions)". One of the issues is whether or not it is legitimate to say that people have permission, by implication, to call you or e-mail you for certain purposes and that they do not have permission to use your property for other purposes (sales). When someone sends you junk postal mail, it is at their own expense and you can just toss it out. However, when someone makes your telephone ring or imposes a cost on your Internet service provider's servers, they are using someone else's private property. I favor the approach set up by the federal government's "Do Not Call" list. Perhaps the government could establish a "Do not spam e-mail" list. The benefit of having a "Do not contact if your purpose is sales" list is that it explicitly and specifically states that the owner of property denies permission for use of his property for sales purposes.

Any thoughts? When you consider that at least e-mail spam imposes a monetary cost on another party (your ISP and you), it does seem that spamming could be regarded as a trespass to chattels once it has been established that an e-mail recipient has explicitly requested not to receive marketing e-mails.

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Any thoughts?  When you consider that at least e-mail spam imposes a monetary cost on another party (your ISP and you), it does seem that spamming could be regarded as a trespass to chattels once it has been established that an e-mail recipient has explicitly requested not to receive marketing e-mails.

The issue of the monetary cost upon others is something I hadn't actually considered. Though, with glossy ad via the mail, is the entire cost of the mailing covered within the 50 cents of postage? I realize that the postal service is set up in such a way that it can make a profit, but is a 50 cent mailing enough to cover the cost of say...a new york based business sending me mail about great mortgage rates (note: I live in saint louis) I don't actually have a cost sheet for the postal service but I would suspect the cost of handling the mail (in new york), sorting the mail (for interstate delivery), shipping/flying mail to saint louis, sorting the mail again (for delivery to my address), and then the delivering of said mail to my house-- would cost well more then 50 cents. The rest is subsidized by tax dollars.

I hadn't actually considered the cost burden placed first upon my ISP and then upon myself.

(from spam.abuser.net)

The free ride. E-mail spam is unique in that the receiver pays so much more for it than the sender does. For example, AOL has said that they were receiving 1.8 million spams from Cyber Promotions per day until they got a court injunction to stop it. Assuming that it takes the typical AOL user only 10 seconds to identify and discard a message, that's still 5,000 hours per day of connect time per day spent discarding their spam, just on AOL. By contrast, the spammer probably has a T1 line that costs him about $100/day. No other kind of advertising costs the advertiser so little, and the recipient so much. The closest analogy I can think of would be auto-dialing junk phone calls to cellular users (in the US, cell phone users pay to receive as well as originate calls); you can imagine how favorably that might be received.

We can't emphasize this strongly enough - the receiver pays for the spam, not the sender. "Well," you might argue, "the receiver doesn't really pay any money, because they have a flat-rate ISP account."

But, that's not true. The big online services have metered rates, and so do many ISPs. Furthermore, in some major cities in the U.S., all phone calls, even local ones to an ISPs dial-in modems, are metered.

On top of that, the spammers are exporting the problem to Europe, Australia, Asia, South America and Africa. Many countries around the world have no flat-rate services whatsoever, and in Europe, for example, phone rates are often much higher than in the U.S.

No matter how you stretch to justify it, the recipients of spam are getting the shaft from spammers.

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However, when someone makes your telephone ring or imposes a cost on your Internet service provider's servers, they are using someone else's private property. 

That precise reason is why it's illegal to make unsolicited marketing calls to a cell phone or via a collect call. Regular phone lines (at least in the US) don't incur a per minute or per call cost. They extended the same idea to the internet since you don't get charged per minute generally by ISPs here. Cell phones and some of the foreign land line phone systems I've experienced are different of course. With current cells, you pay a per minute charge so the call has an immediate direct and definable economic impact on you. Hence it's illegal.

I hate Jehova's Witnesses because I get at least one of them a week knocking on my door. Since my door is not blocked by a fence or gate, then they do have a right to sell God by knocking on my door. Just like I have the right to go door to door and hand out copies of Economics in One Lesson if I wanted to. Yes, their is lost time telling to go away. The same annoyance and lost time applies to people who called me on my land line trying to sell me siding. It was annoying and cost me time until I got a caller id box. I still spend time each day sorting through my postal mail and find maybe 10% at most is actually wanted. The rest I have to spend time ripping up and throwing in the trash.

I'd extend that idea to commercial email. Yes you loose time for me to email you and say buy this or that or vote this way. I however have the right to ask you if you want to buy whatever it is I'm selling. Where the immorality comes into play is when they commit fraud by not removing you when you request and then sell your name to others or when the volume and or tone constitutes harrasment. Most spam contains pretty clear fraud or at least a tort against you that could be covered under the DTPA if it was written correctly. Though the whole forced opt out CANSPAM enacted probably won't stand up since you are not allowed to opt out of postal junk mail except under extreme circumstances. I can't remember if the Do Not Call list has hit the supreme court yet.

Unless the people who run the porn sites or fake pharmacies etc that are advertised and create a genuine economic impact on them, the fraud won't stop. Then again, if people would quite buying fake viagra and going to porn sites in the first place their wouldn't be a marketplace for spam.

However, when someone makes your telephone ring or imposes a cost on your Internet service provider's servers, they are using someone else's private property.

As for the cost to the ISP's to move legitamite commercial email, they have always been treated like a common carrier and are expected to bear the costs incurred by the use of their services. Mailbombs and alphabet attacks are clearly tortious acts against an ISP's property and should be covered under the UCC or DTPA. I'm just addressing normal commercial email. ATT has to cover the costs of all those guys trying to sell me siding or life insurance. If they just made that any marketing phone calls illegal, it would save telco's alot of money. Same applies to all those catalogs from office supply companies I've never heard of. We get hundreds of them and have to either sort and dump them or sort and distribute them. Try being in your mailroom come Xmas or Valentines day. All that non-work related mail clogs the system.

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Another part of CANSPAM and the national DNC register is how easy it is to market to you now. The law made an excepion to the rules that says no rules apply if you have an existing relaionship with the company or on of it's subsidiaries or business partners.

Say I use my cell phone as the contact for the domain registrar for my weddings website. That # is a legitamite contact number for GoDaddy to contact me with problems etc. GoDaddy has some partners that over various web related services so I got a call from 2 of them before I realized where they were coming from. Also, with the whois gives out business information for the domain. So it could be argued that the phone I provided, even if it was a cell, was your declaration to the world that this is how the website www.10012005.com (our wedding date BTW) wants to be contacted.

So it's there as the official contact number and I expect to get a marketing call every once in a while due to it. But then I did that understanding I was using my Nokia 6800 as my point of contact.

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One of the issues is whether or not it is legitimate to say that people have permission, by implication, to call you or e-mail you for certain purposes and that they do not have permission to use your property for other purposes (sales).
That's a reasonable distinction, but it should be applied objectively to all property rights. So...
When someone sends you junk postal mail, it is at their own expense and you can just toss it out.  However, when someone makes your telephone ring or imposes a cost on your Internet service provider's servers, they are using someone else's private property.
I don't see the distinction here. There is a cost attached to junk mail: labor, since you have to sort it out and throw it out, plus the cost of disposal. These are both tiny costs paid mostly in annoyance and taxes, but so is the cost of throwing out unwanted email. Junk postal mail uses your property just as much as junk phone calls or junk email. All unsolicited items should be treated the same.
I favor the approach set up by the federal government's "Do Not Call" list.  Perhaps the government could establish a "Do not spam e-mail" list.  The benefit of having a "Do not contact if your purpose is sales" list is that it explicitly and specifically states that the owner of property denies permission for use of his property for sales purposes.
Establishing and maintaining such lists is not the function of government. Such a list should be private, and could be tailored to the specific annoyance that you want to block. That would include junk postal mail, bags of fliers shoved on the porch, the annoying "neighborhood paper", phone calls, etc. By making an explicit (viz. published) statement -- a "No Trespassing" sign of sorts -- the issue of rights violation does come up. Implicitly, any passer-by has the right to come up your walk and knock on your door (which includes Jehosephat's Witlesses), but you can override the implication by explicitly posting a No Trespassing sign. The same can be done for junk postal mail, junk porch fliers, phone calls and emails. Of course in the case of spam, 99% of spammers are criminals so it won't bother them that they are violating your rights.

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I think that the second you make your e-mail public, you should be aware that someone might want to send you their ads. Brushing aside the spam where return address is fake and similar cases, there is really nothing wrong about it. Expecting not to get ads in this case is like expecting not to see ads when you switch on your TV.

I've been lucky enough not to get spam in the last several months, which could be because of the spam blocker installed on the server, or because I've learned to be careful (most likely both) about where I publish my e-mail. If you don't want spam, you should probably learn that too.

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I think that the second you make your e-mail public, you should be aware that someone might want to send you their ads. Brushing aside the spam where return address is fake and similar cases, there is really nothing wrong about it. Expecting not to get ads in this case is like expecting not to see ads when you switch on your TV.

When I turn on the TV, I understand that the ads are a condition of my viewing a particular program. The advertisers pay for the content on the television and it is provided to me for free. This is not the case with spam e-mail; the junk e-mail is not a condition of using an e-mail service. They are not providing me with anything, and they take something away from me by sending the e-mail to my account.

If you look at the underlying principles of TV ads and spam e-mail, there is no way to equate them.

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Spam is a violation of property rights, is a public nuisance, and is inherently dishonest. A spammer has no more right to impose himself on you and your property than any obnoxious solicitor would have a right to walk into your living room and claim he has a right to be there until you tell him to leave -- and then come back an hour later to do the same thing, still knowing that you don't want him there, but hoping against overwhelming odds to find someone else there he can latch onto -- a friend, a relative, the mailman, someone reading the utility meter, another vagrant trespassing -- anyone.

Spamming is profitable for spammers because almost the entire burden of their costs is born by others. They expect, and typically get, only a tiny fraction of a percent of responses to make their operation pay. They send out literally millions of spams per run, knowing in advance that the overwhelming majority of their targets don't want it. The damage explodes as you receive a steady stream of their promotions.

Some estimates now say that spam accounts for well over half the email traffic on the internet, putting an enormous burden on all levels of infrastructure and recipients the spammers know in advance do not want it. Your computer is supposed to be yours, not the spammers'.

- Spammers violate the contractual terms of their own ISPs, which typically ban spamming, hoping they get off enough of a run before being caught and moving on to the next ISP, which can be anywhere in the world.

- They falsify email headers precisely to throw the recipients off the track long enough to get enough spams out before they can be reported.

- They typically no longer use their own ISP facilities because they know that recipients and internet relays will block on their IP addresses.

- They change and obfuscate the subject field and text within their own spam in an attempt to get through the increasingly sophisticated filtering mechanisms of recipients who don't want their spam, imposing an additional enormous cost on the development of such filters and the damage done through false positives causing people to lose legitimate messages.

- They host their spamvertized web sites on foreign facilities (typically China) where they can't be personally tracked. When using "legitimate" companies as hosts they move from one account to another hoping to get enough responses before their website is shut down, often additionally redirecting through a whole chain of hosts to obfuscate the final destination.

- In recent years a common source of spam has become "hijacked" PC's running trojans unknown to their owners, often routed through network relays which are not supposed to be used for email at all, making it difficult to trace the source.

- They plant viruses and trojans on PCs, which exploit security vulnerabilities to capture address books for new targets.

- Spammers troll the internet with robots gathering email addresses from websites, including domain registration sites which legally prohibit such use, but knowing that the vast majority of the targets don't want the spam.

- The "opt-out" mechanism provided in spam usually is a device used to verify that an address is valid so that it can continue to be used as a target and sold to other spammers.

The spam mentality extends far beyond the worst frauds, well into the so-called "legitimate" marketers. This is the "marketing" mentality that has no concern for anyone's rights or desire for how you want to use your own property -- and no respect for rational communication. They too concentrate on playing the odds, continuing the grand tradition of sensationalist hype developed as a science and art form designed to manipulate.

All of this, along with other forms of intrusion such as planting popup and popunder ads in accordance with the same mentality, is rampant. It has become an international plague. It is establishing a well-deserved reputation for "marketeers", which used to be restricted to the symbolic and well despised "used car salesman" (and before that the foot-in-the-door vacuum cleaner salesman and earlier elixer huxters operating out of the back of a wagon).

"Mainstream" organizations such as the Direct Marketing Association reinforce the problem by lobbying to obstruct and slow down anti-spamming laws, while claiming that their members' unsolicited promotions are somehow "legitimate". (The DMA is the same organization that tried to stop the do not call list in the courts.) They all see the evolving computer revolution as a source of money divorced from any concept of earning it and divorced from the concept of property rights as they try to establish a new body of law, tradition and infrastructure that maximizes their access to your computer whether you like it or not.

The Can Spam Act has been used to successfully prosecute a few spammers who could be tracked, but it more fundamentally told spammers they "can spam" within a few loose guidelines that they typically ignore anyway. Thanks to the DMA and its lobbyist allies, it allows unsolicited promotions subject to an "opt out" provision, imposing the burden on the recipient to object to every piece of crap he receives, and then try to prove it when the spam keeps coming. Established practice for legitimate email lists, on the other hand, requires a double opt-in, with confirmation. (The original plan to create a "do not email" list was thankfully reduced to making a recommendation. It was quickly rejected when more sensible technologists reporting to the FTC concluded that it would only provide a list of email addresses for spammers to abuse.)

Technology to block these intrusions is not enough. The technology is still evolving: from new authentication protocols for email and secure web access, to popup blockers, to antivirus programs, to anti spyware and trojan blockers and detectors, to anti-spam and pornography filters, to general firewalls that block all kinds of remote network attacks, to efficient reporting technologies (spamcop.net) to quickly identify and shut down spammers. But technology is also evolving and being deployed on behalf of the spammers and the proponents of unearned access to your computer. The technology may eventually stop the most obscene of the rogue spammers and hackers, but technology alone is not an answer to anarchy.

This an evolving cultural battle that will require not only new and better property rights and privacy laws protecting against new forms of abuse as technology evolves, but also a respect for rational communication over hype and numbers games, while ensuring that the PC that used to be your personal property does not become an internet appliance accessible by someone else for their own purposes.

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"Mainstream" organizations such as the Direct Marketing Association reinforce the problem by lobbying to obstruct and slow down anti-spamming laws, while claiming that their members' unsolicited promotions are somehow "legitimate".  (The DMA is the same organization that tried to stop the do not call list in the courts.)  They all see the evolving computer revolution as a source of money divorced from any concept of earning it and divorced from the concept of property rights as they try to establish a new body of law, tradition and infrastructure that maximizes their access to your computer whether you like it or not.

This is the part that riles me up the most, and I think should irritate any legitimate marketer. How can a truly rational marketer stand by in agreement with the idea that even if the consumer has explicitly said "no", they should still be allowed the right to bombard them with the message?

It's not the government's place to interfere with business, but if a citizen says "no, I don't want this, you are bothering me, please go away", and the sender ignores this request, isn't that then a violation of your personal rights? Isn't it harassment? As I read it, the Do Not Call list didn't say that telemarketing operations couldn't be in business. It was simply a list that lets these businesses know in advance that they are not welcome. Like a giant "no trespassing" sign that's easier to read.

The rejection of this idea by these associations seems to belie a truth they aren't willing to admit. That their business model relies on those who are weak-minded, incapable and possibly ignorant of certain rights. Again, I don't think it's the government's place to be a baby-sitter, but how can they rationally explain this supposed "right to ignore the no trespassing sign"?

I've heard the argument of spam being presented as "if you don't want it, you can tell them to remove you from their list and if they don't, you can prosecute as an individual". But at what point, if any, does such a standard become impossible, regardless of the rational philosophical base behind it? The major problem with this argument is that the vast majority of these spam mails use the opt-outs as harvesters. Second to that, tracking down the actual information of these people is as difficult. "Well then that's fraud, and you can persecute them for that."

While the following is obviously humor, it does seem to suggest a level of frustration of people who try everything to get away from harassing solicitation.

<humor>

"Spammer #1: "I looked out the window and held down my horn for 10 seconds, and she glanced at me for a second before flipping me the bird and driving off! But I got a good look at her! That's opt-in!"

Spammer #2: "My chick could have unsubscribed by just giving me a b*job. But she didn't want to! It's her fault for not unsubscribing!"

</humor>

But isn't fraud a violation of rights as well? Doesn't the government have a definite interest in preserving the rights of the citizens under that explanation?

There seems to be something very twisted about this whole idea of spam. Frankly, it seems virtually impossible for a single individual to attempt prosecution of every spam-mail he receives with even a small degree of success. Not just "hard" or "a lot of work". But literally requiring all his available time to seek resolution with limited success. I know it's happened a few times, but those examples are by far in the minority. Corporations (such as Microsoft) have had some successful suits, but usually deal more with trademark confusion than unwanted spam.

So, to sum up the question in terms of philosophy/law; is there a point at which the ability for the individual to defend his rights, while still existent, is so minute for success that it is rational for the government to step into a proactive role?

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Could someone explain why they think that fraud constitutes an initiation of force? I can sort of see the logic in the case of someone obtaining something through fraudulent means (althogh that seems like a fairly ad hoc definition of 'force' - almost as if the word were being stretched to make it cover all the things that are considered wrong, rather than being used objectively), but you cant really include faking an email address in that category, regardless of how irritating it might be.

Edited by Hal

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Could someone explain why they think that fraud constitutes an initiation of force? I can sort of see the logic in the case of someone obtaining something through fraudulent means (although that seems like a fairly ad hoc definition of 'force' - almost as if the word were being stretched to make it cover all the things that are considered wrong, rather than being used objectively),
The concept of political rights is based on the moral principle that each individual should live by the rational judgment of his own mind and should be free to do so. Rights are the means of subordinating society to morality; they are moral principles sanctioning freedom of action. Fraud is an indirect form of force because it is a deliberate misrepresentation intended to prevent another person's rational faculty from correctly identifying facts. That is why no one has a right to commit fraud and is why fraud intended to manipulate someone into a loss is and should be outlawed.

but you cant really include faking an email address in that category, regardless of how irritating it might be.
Spammers fake their identity -- including the 'from address', the 'reply to address', originating 'received from' domain names, and 'opt out' addresses and links -- because they seek to evade the responsibility for their own abusive actions which are (even under current weak laws), and should be, illegal. Sending spam to someone is more than irritating; it is deliberate perpetration of nuisance and harassment carried out through a violation of the property rights of the recipient and the providers of the infrastructure. Spammers' fraudulent misrepresentations are intended to avoid tracking them in order to hold them accountable (such as their violation of their own ISP's contractual terms) while causing additional losses to those who bear the costs of erroneous complaints caused by the spammer: the additional bandwidth traffic and the complaints going to the owner of a wrong domain or email address.

If a spammer ever fraudulently uses your email address as a return address for his spam you will experience first hand the costs imposed on you by thousands or tens of thousands of complaints misdirected to you directly because of the spammer's actions as your mail system fills up and you are unable to extract your legitimate mail from it. This alone has been grounds for successful suits against spammers, if they can be identified and found at all and if the victim has the means to pursue it.

Never reply to a spammer. Most such replies will never reach the spammer because they go to the wrong address at someone else's expense, or are fed directly into a program that adds your address to a list of confirmed "live" addresses. Spam should be reported directly to the originating ISP based on the 'received from' IP addresses in the headers, not any text purporting to provide a domain name or email address, which is now almost universally forged.

An efficient way to report spammers is to use the system at http://spamcop.net. This private organization will route your report to the proper places in order to hold the spammer or his ISP accountable. ISPs that do not shut down spammers using their facilities are black-listed by ISPs using the spamcop lists. You can also fiilter your own email through an account at spamcop.net to block spam in addition to using it to report spammers.

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Fraud is an indirect form of force because it is a deliberate misrepresentation intended to prevent another person's rational faculty from correctly identifying facts.  That is why no one has a right to commit fraud and is why fraud intended to manipulate someone into a loss is and should be outlawed.
While fraud is morally wrong for the reasons given, it is not a form of force, either directly or indirectly. There is no contact with a person's body, or property involved in fraud. I think that supporting laws which criminalize lying is a very dangerous path to take - if a man has an affair and then denies it to his wife, why wouldnt be an initiation of force, for the same reasons you give? Would this action be morally wrong? Perhaps, depending on circumstances. Would it warrant state intervention? Certainly not.

If a spammer ever fraudulently uses your email address as a return address for his spam you will experience first hand the costs imposed on you by thousands or tens of thousands of complaints misdirected to you directly because of the spammer's actions as your mail system fills up and you are unable to extract your legitimate mail from it.  This alone has been grounds for successful suits against spammers, if they can be identified and found at all and if the victim has the means to pursue it.
While this is certainly annoying, it does not mean the spammer has initiated force against you any more than if someone pinned your mailing address to a public lamppost. The problem of spamming will disappear when/if some kind of pay-per-email scheme is implemented (meaning that people will have to pay a trivially small fee of around $0.01 to email you) - regulation is not the answer. Edited by Hal

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deedlebee: It's not the government's place to interfere with business, but if a citizen says "no, I don't want this, you are bothering me, please go away", and the sender ignores this request, isn't that then a violation of your personal rights? Isn't it harassment? As I read it, the Do Not Call list didn't say that telemarketing operations couldn't be in business. It was simply a list that lets these businesses know in advance that they are not welcome. Like a giant "no trespassing" sign that's easier to read.

The rejection of this idea by these associations seems to belie a truth they aren't willing to admit. That their business model relies on those who are weak-minded, incapable and possibly ignorant of certain rights. Again, I don't think it's the government's place to be a baby-sitter, but how can they rationally explain this supposed "right to ignore the no trespassing sign"?

Incredibly, the DMA and its supporters argued that the "do not call list" was a violation of their "freedom of speech". They think their "freedom of speech" means that you have to listen to them, at least long enough to tell them "no" in person. If that premise corrupting the meaning of freedom of speech were to take root, how much more would you be forced to listen to as a literal "captive audience" until they would grant that you really mean "no"? Having become their captive with no rights, perhaps the next step would be to force you to try their "products", then force you to buy them, in the name of "freedom of trade"? They have no respect for your intelligence, so why should it be surprising that such sophistry would be used to deny your rights?

I've heard the argument of spam being presented as "if you don't want it, you can tell them to remove you from their list and if they don't, you can prosecute as an individual". But at what point, if any, does such a standard become impossible, regardless of the rational philosophical base behind it?
What rational philosophy?

The major problem with this argument is that the vast majority of these spam mails use the opt-outs as harvesters.
Even they did let you "opt out" and didn't use your confirmation of your email address to "opt you in" to other spam, why should you have to explicitly and repeatedly "opt out" from every attack, a mechanism designed for their convenience at your expense? They know in advance that nearly 100% of their targets don't want their solicitations. The "opt out" mechanism sought by so-called "legitimate" marketers is itself a rationalization for and a product of the spam mentality.

Second to that, tracking down the actual information of these people is as difficult. "Well then that's fraud, and you can persecute them for that."
The lack of respect for your effort and resources required to track them down and sue them is the same mentality that disregards the imposition on you to have to personally object to every act of harassment in the first place. Every thing they do is a contemptuous violation of your rights, and every argument they give to rationalize it is a further illustration of that.

But isn't fraud a violation of rights as well? Doesn't the government have a definite interest in preserving the rights of the citizens under that explanation?

There seems to be something very twisted about this whole idea of spam. Frankly, it seems virtually impossible for a single individual to attempt prosecution of every spam-mail he receives with even a small degree of success. Not just "hard" or "a lot of work". But literally requiring all his available time to seek resolution with limited success. I know it's happened a few times, but those examples are by far in the minority. Corporations (such as Microsoft) have had some successful suits, but usually deal more with trademark confusion than unwanted spam.

I have read that Microsoft is a member of the DMA. They will pursue law suits against the rogue spammers costing them money, but want the law to allow what they consider "legitimate" unsolicited promotions They can afford to go after some spammers, but individuals cannot ordinarily do even that much; neither can individuals take on the lobbyists who seek laws protecting and legitimizing spamming -- this falls into the realm of the rest of the battle for individual rights. Speak out in every forum you can.

So, to sum up the question in terms of philosophy/law; is there a point at which the ability for the individual to defend his rights, while still existent, is so minute for success that it is rational for the government to step into a proactive role?
The criterion for the severity of a crime does not require that any one individual suffer a significant loss from any one act. This is the same principle as investigating and prosecuting those who steal from financial transaction by systematically skimming money from roundoff of a fraction of a cent, accumulating large amounts of theft from millions of transactions.

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The concept of political rights is based on the moral principle that each individual should live by the rational judgment of his own mind and should be free to do so.  Rights are the means of subordinating society to morality; they are moral principles sanctioning freedom of action.  Fraud is an indirect form of force because it is a deliberate misrepresentation intended to prevent another person's rational faculty from correctly identifying facts.  That is why no one has a right to commit fraud and is why fraud intended to manipulate someone into a loss is and should be outlawed.
The step that you're not making explicit, which needs to be, is how you define "force". I believe you're identifying "force" as an act intended to prevent a being from using their rational faculty in chosing. (If not, would you please define "force"?). If you accept that, then I don't see how fraud is indirect. A further consequence of that is that any lying is initiation of force, and should be outlawed. I don't know if you'd be willing to accept that consequence: I'm not, at least without some pretty compelling argumenation.

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A further consequence of that is that any lying is initiation of force, and should be outlawed. I don't know if you'd be willing to accept that consequence: I'm not, at least without some pretty compelling argumenation. 

A proper philosophy (from which one would use to create laws) cannot include "you must lie" or "you must never lie", but shouldn't there be some repercussion available for victims of deceit? The justice system, which enforces laws, must be able to make lying to the enforcers a crime in itself. I'm not suggesting that everyone would have a reasonable right to sue for every lie, but there must be some acceptable line. If a doctor lies to you about the effects of a drug, he should be liable. If a business lies to you about their product ("it's brand new" and it turns out to be 5 years old), they should be liable. I am unsure of how far (if at all) it should extend into the realm of personal associations.

But if lying is not an initiation of force, then what do you do about it in non-personal transactions? Are you suggesting that fraud should not be considered illegal?

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Fraud is not physical force, which is why it is referred to as an indirect form of force, and it is more than a lie: It is intended to subvert an honest process of thought and choice for the purpose of tricking the victim into an action he otherwise would not take unless physically forced. In that sense, it is "forcing a mind". If you understand the relation between reason, morality and rights it is clear why fraud is a violation of rights.

The libertarian starting point of banning literal physical force -- on behalf of people doing whatever they feel like and without regard for the requirements of a life of reason in a civilized society -- cannot explain why fraud should be illegal. It is not surprising that some libertarian groups are still outspoken apologists for spammers. But the answer is not to try contort fraud into a kind of literal physical force.

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Fraud is not physical force, which is why it is referred to as an indirect form of force, and it is more than a lie: It is intended to subvert an honest process of thought and choice for the purpose of tricking the victim into an action he otherwise would not take unless physically forced.  In that sense, it is "forcing a mind".  If you understand the relation between reason, morality and rights it is clear why fraud is a violation of rights.

It's clear why fraud is immoral and is a violation of rights, just not at all clear to me why fraud meets the conditions of being force. Do you have a definition of the concept "force" which includes fraud as a specific type (especially one where the restriction "indirect" clarifies the distinction)? Or is the use of "force" to refer to fraud a metaphor. And how is lying not a species of fraud? Is there some differentiating character?

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But if lying is not an initiation of force, then what do you do about it in non-personal transactions?  Are you suggesting that fraud should not be considered illegal?

I'm suggesting that the proper principle is stated in terms of man's rights, which are a necessity for his survial qua man, and that force and fraud are two actions that violate man's rights. Laws should protect rights, and not just limited to preventing force, because fraud is not force, but fraud should be illegal.

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I'm suggesting that the proper principle is stated in terms of man's rights, which are a necessity for his survial qua man, and that force and fraud are two actions that violate man's rights. Laws should protect rights, and not just limited to preventing force, because fraud is not force, but fraud should be illegal.

Why would fraud be distinct from any other case of lying (what is the definition of fraud here?). A seller who lies to a buyer is guilty of obtaining their property under false pretences, but a husband who lies to his wife is guilting of obtaining her time, and indeed her life, under false pretences.

Also, why do you believe people have a right not to be lied to? Unless I'm mistaken, all other rights within Objectivism involve restrictions on force, so an exception is certainly being made here.

Edited by Hal

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Why would fraud be distinct from any other case of lying (what is the definition of fraud here?). A seller who lies to a buyer is guilty of obtaining their property under false pretences, but a husband who lies to his wife is guilting of obtaining her time, and indeed her life, under false pretences.
Fraud is knowing misreprentation of the truth to induce another to act to their detriment, i.e. destruction of value. Fraud is a specific kind of lying so of course not all lies are legally innocent. Indeed, I suspect (but can't point to specifics) that a husband lying to a wife, or a man lying to a woman to induce her to become his wife, could constitute fraud and probably such a case has been successfully prosecuted in the courts.

A husband never owns his wife's life or time, so your analogies are not analogous. The relevant considerations for distinguishing the cases are "would not otherwise have", and demonstrable destruction of value coupled with the concept of making the aggrieved party "whole". For example, if you represent a car as being a real car and sell it for a market-appropriate price of $10,000, only it turns out the car is just a chassis with no working parts, you have committed fraud. The customer's loss of money is demonstrable destruction of value and the reasonable interpretation of the transaction is that the buyer's willingness to transfer ownership of the money is contingent on receiving a working car in return. By operating outside these clearly defined bounds, the seller has wrongfully taken property and can be forced to make restitution under the law. If the person were offering you free no-strings-attached money out of the goodness of his heart (leftist swine) and you responded by giving a fake car as a gift as a "sign of appreciation" (again, actually a shell of a car), you have not defrauded the person because their gift was not contingent on receiving consideration. Case law is more filled with problems over whether there was actual damage, and so you could start with Hadley v. Baxendale and work forward to try to get a clear puicture of what constitutes legally actionable damage.

On the other hand, if you lie to a street bum who begs for a dime saying "Sorry, I don't have any money" when you actually do a lot of dimes in your pocket, you have demonstrated bad character by not giving an honest answer like "Get a job you alky swine" or "I refuse", but you have not violated his "right" to know he truth about whether you have money and to make decisions as to whether he wil think poorly of you. Lying to your mom, similarly, should not be legally actionable unless of course your mom is a customer and you're misrepresented the worth of your product.

Lying to your wife in a particular manner (e.g. about an affair) could well be legally actionable in a particular way, namely the dissolution of the marriage (but prison time or specific fines apart from division of marital assets would not be appropriate legal punishments for such lies). However, I don't think marital fidelity is the best model for understanding rights, truth and fraud, because in a proper construal of marriage, it is a mutual agreement which can be terminated by either party without cause.

I don't by any means think the distinctions are trivial.

Also, why do you believe people have a right not to be lied to?
I don't. I believe that they have a right not to be deprived of their property: that the lawful acquisition of another's possessions or labor requires a voluntary assignment of that right by the original owner, and that if the conditions of the assignment are not met then the supposed new owner does not legally posses the property (or in the case of labor performed, does own something else as compensation). To make that a bit less abstract, if I agree to sell you my car for $10,000 then if you hand me a rubber check and I hand you a functioning car, you have not performed as you agreed you would so you are not legally on possession of the car. (And vice vesa for real money vs. a non-working car).

Unless I'm mistaken, all other rights within Objectivism involve restrictions on force, so an exception is certainly being made here.

The word "other" is important. The question is whether rights derive from a principle regarding "force", or something else. If rights are exclusively determined with reference to the concept "force", we better have a definition of "force", and so far, I have not seen a satisfactory definition of "force" which subsumes actual force as well as evasive conduct.

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David Odden: The step that you're not making explicit, which needs to be, is how you define "force". I believe you're identifying "force" as an act intended to prevent a being from using their rational faculty in choosing. (If not, would you please define "force"?). If you accept that, then I don't see how fraud is indirect. A further consequence of that is that any lying is initiation of force, and should be outlawed. I don't know if you'd be willing to accept that consequence: I'm not, at least without some pretty compelling argumentation.
Patron: It's clear why fraud is immoral and is a violation of rights, just not at all clear to me why fraud meets the conditions of being force. Do you have a definition of the concept "force" which includes fraud as a specific type (especially one where the restriction "indirect" clarifies the distinction)? Or is the use of "force" to refer to fraud a metaphor. And how is lying not a species of fraud? Is there some differentiating character?

Force means physical compulsion. Fraud is not an actual use of physical compulsion as is, for example, a burglary or a hold-up, but it does generally attempt to physically appropriate or retain someone else's property. Both fraud and lying are dishonest, but lying does not necessarily involve taking someone else's property. (You may also be justified in misleading someone if it is to defend your own rights.)

We don't have to reduce every violation of rights to an instance of active use of direct, brute force in order to justify it as a violation: We don't start with banning "force", and then go out to discover all the things we can classify as force, as the basis of defending political rights -- we start, in a social context, with the social requirements for life as a rational being and then identify actions that violate that. Indirect uses of force that violate our rights include threats of force, fraud and violating a contractual agreement. This is often all summed up under the phrase "initiating force or fraud", with the meaning and basis of that presumed (as I did) in discussions such this is. Everyone involved in this discussion here seems to understand these basic principles; one need not delve into great subtleties to understand why spamming -- once its nature is understood -- is a violation of rights and ought to be outlawed.

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JeffreyH: I favor the approach set up by the federal government's "Do Not Call" list.  Perhaps the government could establish a "Do not spam e-mail" list.  The benefit of having a "Do not contact if your purpose is sales" list is that it explicitly and specifically states that the owner of property denies permission for use of his property for sales purposes.
David Odden: Establishing and maintaining such lists is not the function of government. Such a list should be private, and could be tailored to the specific annoyance that you want to block.
A "do not email" list would not work against spam because spammers would simply use it as a source of confirmed targets. With people trying to keep their addresses private to avoid spam, the last thing to do is publish your address on a list. Spam is so widely despised and unwanted that opposition to receiving it ought to be presumed as part of your legal rights without millions of email users each having to say anything else. Those who want spam can publish a list to volunteer -- with direct, explicit confirmation required as the legal responsibility of the list publisher. Marketeers such as the DMA seeking to exploit email do not want that precisely because they know people would not sign up for their spam, further demonstrating why no form of "opt out" should be required.

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