Policies affecting the Internet as a whole - Hitting where it hurts

Paul A Vixie paul at vix.com
Fri Dec 27 20:02:13 UTC 1996

> You and your users should lay charges against AOL. They were in violation
> of the ECPA which forbids them from deleting email like that the same way
> the laws forbid a postal carrier from burning letters they don't want to
> deliver.
> And if anyone else is thinking of taking similar action to block email,
> make sure you either filter port 25 in the router or you bounce back all 
> the email so that the sending party knows the mail is not going to be
> delivered. Once you accept an email message you have a legal obligation to
> deliver it to the addressee.

I agree that this is the letter, and the intent, of the ECPA.  However, as
a matter of enforceable practice, none of the above matters.  First off, most
actual spam does not have a meaningful return address -- indeed, making spam
unreturnable is considered a high art by those who engage in the practice.
Second and more telling, all we are required to do is make a "reasonable best
effort" at returning the mail.  For the U. S. Postal Service, that means they
have to do with it what they do with every other letter of that postal class.
Same for e-mail.  What we do with e-mail when disks crash is: drop it.  What
we do when our network is congested is: delay it.  What we do when we see a
large amount of junk in a mail queue that appears to be the result of some
automated process gone wild is (listen carefully) expunge it with no notice
to anybody.

The law will not hold you to a higher standard than "reasonable best effort".
For spam, that means a black hole.  I happen to black hole in the router, so
that the mail never enters my system at all.  But if I chose to receive the
mail -- which is sometimes necessary given that not all spam comes from known
addresses -- there is *nothing* the justice department would do about it,
since I would be making the "reasonable best effort" for the kind of traffic
that it is.  The "postal class" for returned mail is "bulk".

Wow, a network discussion on NANOG that is actually north american in nature.

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