FTC considers its antispam options

Last week, Federal Trade Commission officials showed their determination for getting the software industry and Internet service providers to stop aggressive spammers.

Many industry officials who attended an antispam meeting in Washington, D.C., last week said they welcomed FTC officials' role in urging the industry to use e-mail authentication technologies. Without such technologies, they said, unwanted commercial e-mail threatens to spoil e-commerce and destroy consumer confidence.

"Spam is creating a crisis of confidence on the Internet and threatening to bring down the killer application, which is e-mail," said Daniel Burton, vice president of governmental affairs at Entrust, an Internet security company.

But solving the nation's spam problem with authentication technologies will require a balancing act, legal and privacy experts say. The two-day meeting was sponsored by the FTC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Dubbed the E-mail Authentication Summit, the session drew several hundred software industry officials, users and others

to discuss the policy and technical implications of adopting industrywide standards for dealing with spam.

If officials at ISPs could accurately identify or authenticate who is sending spam, spammers could be prosecuted under the Can-Spam Act and other antifraud laws, legal experts say.

However, if industry officials adopt technologies to detect spammers' true identities, care must be taken to balance people's right to be rid of spam and others' right to use

e-mail for anonymous political speech, said Duane Berlin, general counsel at the Council of American Survey Research Organizations. "Both sides of the equation are important; both rights exist," he said.

Making the case for protecting anonymous free speech, Paula Bruening, staff counsel at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, said e-mail authentication technologies must offer a mechanism for whistleblowers and others engaged in political speech to send anonymous e-mail messages.

Such messages would not need to be assigned priority delivery, Bruening said, but it should "not be automatically turned back and refused delivery."

At the two-day summit, vendors presented their technical approaches to eliminating spam, some of them based on cryptographic software and others on second-level domain name verification. (In the example abc@ftc.gov, "ftc" is the second-level domain name.)

Regardless of approach, any changes to current spam-filtering practices will pose risks, said John Levine, a principal consultant and software developer at Taughannock Networks.

"The e-mail world is very big and surprisingly fragile," Levine said. Making it secure poses challenges similar to making the U.S. Postal Service's system anthrax-resistant, he said. No proposal offered so far is ready for prime time, he added.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group