At the recent Cyberspace and the American Dream summit in Aspen CO, Federal Trade Commission chair Timothy Muris spoke about the role his agency is playing in protecting consumers in a high-tech world. His section on anti-spam efforts appears here, edited from a speech that appears in full at http://www.ftc.gov/speeches/muris/030819aspen.htm. Just as the unwanted intrusion into our homes created by telemarketing calls implicates consumers’ privacy, so too does the clogging of our Internet mailboxes by unwanted and unsolicited commercial email, or “spam.” Spam has become one of the biggest intrusions into consumers’ daily lives. The problems from spam go well beyond the annoyance it causes. These problems include the fraudulent and deceptive content of most spam messages, the sheer volume of spam being sent across the Internet, and the security issues raised when spam is used to disrupt service or as a vehicle for sending viruses. Although a single piece of spam to a single consumer causes de minimis economic harm, the cumulative economic damage from spam is enormous, and growing. We lack reliable, empirical research regarding the costs of spam, but estimates - guesses might be a better word - have ranged from $10 billion to $87 billion a year. Despite the concerted efforts of government regulators, legislators, Internet service providers, and other interested parties, the problem continues to worsen. Virtually all of the panelists at the Commission’s recent Spam Forum opined that the volume of unsolicited email is increasing exponentially and that we are at a “tipping point,” requiring some action to avert deep erosion of public confidence that could hinder, or even, for many, destroy, email as a tool for communication and online commerce. In other words, spam is “killing the killer app.” Two facts make spam different from other forms of marketing. First, unlike telemarketers or direct mail users, spammers can easily hide their identity and cross international borders. Email can be sent from anywhere to anyone in the world, without the recipient knowing who sent it….Our enforcement experience, and that of the few states that have tried to punish spammers, is that it can take months of investigation, and the issuance of a dozen or more subpoenas, simply to locate a spammer. Second, there are fundamental differences between the costs of email and other forms of marketing. Unlike phone calls or mail solicitations, sending additional spam is essentially costless. Instead, recipients and Internet Service Providers bear most of the costs. Because email technology allows spammers to shift the costs almost entirely to third parties, there is no incentive for the spammers to reduce the volume. Clearly, then, spam is a major problem that normal market forces will not solve and is therefore a prime candidate for governmental intervention. The very technology that makes email such a powerful and revolutionary tool for business, however, makes spam a problem that the application of the Commission’s law enforcement and regulatory tools cannot solve. There is no quick or simple “silver bullet.” Rather, solutions must be pursued from many directions - technological, legal, and consumer action. As you are no doubt aware, there are several legislative proposals to address spam. Parts of these proposals can help, but no one should expect any new law to make a substantial difference by itself. Unfortunately, the legislative debate seems to be veering off on the wrong track, exploring largely ineffective solutions. For example, a “Do Not Spam” list is an intriguing idea, but it is unclear how we can make it work. Most spam is already so clearly illegitimate that the senders are no more likely to comply than with the “ADV” laws they now ignore. We are sure the National Do Not Call Registry will reduce calls significantly. There is no basis to conclude that a Do Not Spam list would be enforceable or produce any noticeable reduction in spam. If it were established, my advice to consumers would be: Don’t waste the time and effort to sign up. In the end, legislation cannot do much to solve the spam problem, because it can only make a limited contribution to the crucial problems of anonymity and cost shifting. Some of the proposed legislation, unfortunately, could be harmful or, at best, useless.